The revolution in evolution – what do the “Nobel prize” discoveries in chemistry

Today in Stockholm, were named winners of the Nobel prize in 2018 in chemistry. Half of the prize awarded to Frances Arnold “for directed evolution of enzymes”. The second half George Smith and Gregory winter “in phage display of peptides and antibodies,” reads the statement on the website of the Nobel Committee.

Gregory winter, George Smith and Frances Arnold

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Arnold and Smith – Americans, winter English. Winners this year were able to “tame” the evolution of enzymes and peptides by learning to biological molecules with desired properties. Using these methods, one can obtain the new drugs and antibodies, as well as to replace the traditional catalysts containing heavy metal ions, more “green”.

Interestingly, the results of the award are to be announced not only in Swedish and English. After that, the Chairman of the Committee repeats the wording in German, French and Russian.

This award as the last prize in physics, consists of two different services, related only by a common idea – evolution.

What is the enzyme?

Frances Arnold, the famous Professor at Caltech (there are characters from the famous TV show about “nerds” – “the big Bang Theory”), its sphere of activity – enzymes, or enzymes, the biological catalysts.

To understand what it is you need to recall the definition of the first year of school chemistry. A catalyst is a substance that is not consumed in the reaction but speeds up or changes its direction. “Not consumed” does not mean “not involved” – involved, but for the most part restored to the original state.

These catalysts?

When reactions occur in living organisms, the role of catalysts, especially large biological molecules (e.g. our body) is very large and complex, therefore, left to themselves, they could interact with hundreds of different ways with a hundred different results. Imagine two multi-colored chain from LEGO – but blue and red still and magnetic, are attracted to each other. This biological molecules are long, they are atoms of hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and sometimes other. If you flip these chains are close to one time, for example, the first red brick will stick together with the third blue. Toss again red with the fifth red – and so on. The result will be different each time. This could happen with biological molecules, if not the catalysts.

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Instead, there is a harmonious system of living bodies, the element of chance is extremely small. Reactions between molecules in our body are extremely accurate and give exacting and reproducible results.

For example, protein – a building block of our muscles and organs are synthesized from the incoming food amino acids under the control of DNA. Each protein has its own DNA, and it ensures that its production is extremely precise. Just because she helps the enzymes that are formed in living organisms during billions of years of evolution.

What did the winners?

Nature has had time for the evolution of enzymes – from single-celled bacteria to large, complex, human, and scientists it is not. They face challenges that require catalysts, and this is all a reaction to the modern chemical industry, from drugs to oil cracking and the synthesis of all polymers and synthetic materials around us. Extremely attractive would be to make all of these processes are as manageable as those that occur in our body. That is, you need to direct the evolution of enzymes in a certain direction and we should spend it faster than millions of years.

“Our laureates has greatly accelerated evolution. How? In nature, mutations occur randomly, most of them don’t need and lost, not reproduced, and need are very rare. Through the study of the enzymes we know about which part of their genome needs to change in order to achieve the desired effect. So that random variation is only in addition. It is this combination of focus and randomness gives the result. The availability of the result – another difference from natural evolution. This is the focus. Nature does not know what is coming, evolution is blind. But in the lab we have a purpose – we want, for example, to obtain a catalyst to produce biofuel. And self-directed evolution is what lead to our goal,” explained the principle of controlled evolution, a member of the Nobel Committee for chemistry Professor Sarah Snogerup Lince.

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What is a “phage display”?

Sir Gregory winter works in Cambridge, George Smith at the University of Missouri in Columbia. They “adapted” for the evolution of proteins of bacteriophages – viruses that “sick” bacteria. The method proposed by Smith in 1985, was named “phage display”.

Winter had thought to use it for directed evolution of antibodies, the key element of the immune system in fighting disease-causing cells. First of farmpreparat, obtained by this method was approved for use in 2002 and used for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and inflammation of the intestine. The “relationship” between bacteria and bacteriophages in General are actively studied and used by scientists – they are also using a promising method for genome editing – CRISPR-Cas9, which is still waiting for his Nobel prize.

Why without these methods no cost in industry and medicine?

Proposed methods develop hundreds of groups around the world both in fundamental science and in industry. Herself Frances Arnold holds patents on enzymes for the production of biofuels – fuel made from renewable resources, i.e. plants.

However, biofuels are somewhat out of fashion in the last 10 years: it turned out that the main problem of modern fuels is not their escapement, and the release of carbon dioxide. Biofuel in this sense is completely analogous.

Sir Gregory winter has patents on antibodies for pharmaceuticals, in Cambridge, he founded three biotechnology companies.

“I can’t tell how much of the drug was produced by the phage display method, but I know that of the 15 best-selling drugs in the world 11 made by this method, the Professor said Lince after the announcement of the winners. I can’t now say exactly road. But their advantage is that this type of binding – phage display is so effective that allows you to dramatically reduce the doses of active substance. So, for example, that you can do applying products on the skin instead of injections. It also affects the price.”

Now drugs made by this method, help people to solve a variety of problems, neutralize toxins to combat autoimmune diseases and metastatic cancers.

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