Researchers win 2017 Nobel Chemistry Prize for cryo-electron microscopy

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Cryo-electron microscopy, a technique that allowed scientists to study molecules in unprecedented resolution, has earned a trio of researchers the 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced on Wednesday.

Jacques Dubochet from Sweden, Joachim Frank from Scotland, and Richard Henderson from Germany, were awarded the prestigious prize for their development of an effective method to generate three-dimensional images of the molecules of life.

Researchers are now able to use cryo-electron microscopy to freeze biomolecules mid-movement and portray them at atomic resolution. Biomolecules which have since been imaged using this technique include Salmonella’s injection needle to attack cells, molecular complexes that govern circadian rhythms, and a pressure sensor of the type that allows us to hear.

“When researchers began to suspect that the Zika virus was causing the epidemic of brain-damaged newborns in Brazil, they turned to cryo-EM to visualize the virus,” the Academy said. “Over a few months, three-dimensional (3D) images of the virus at atomic resolution were generated and researchers could start searching for potential targets for pharmaceuticals.”

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