July 18, 2024

MT Desk: Three scientists who fuelled a revolution in chemistry by devising a way to “click” molecules together like building blocks, even inside living organisms, have been awarded the 2022 Nobel prize in chemistry.

Carolyn Bertozzi at Stanford University, Morten Meldal at the University of Copenhagen and K Barry Sharpless at Scripps Research Institute in California were honoured for finding and exploiting elegant and efficient chemical reactions to create complex molecules for the pharmaceutical industry, mapping DNA and making designer materials.

The award, announced on Wednesday by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, is worth 10m Swedish kronor (£804,000), and will be shared equally among the winners. The Nobel committee said the prize was being given “for the development of click chemistry and bio-orthogonal chemistry”.

It is the second time Sharpless has won the Nobel prize in chemistry, his first being in 2001 for work on “chirally catalysed oxidation reactions.”

Bertozzi becomes only the eighth woman to win the chemistry prize in Nobel history. In 2020, Prof Emmanuel Charpentier, director of the Max Planck Research Unit for the Science of Pathogens in Berlin and Prof Jennifer Doudna, a biochemist at the University of California, Berkeley, became the first two women to share the chemistry prize for work on the “molecular scissors” used to edit genetic code. Sharpless has now won two Nobel prizes for chemistry.

On Monday, the Swedish geneticist Svante Pääbo won the Nobel prize in physiology or medicine for his pioneering work on ancient DNA, in particular sequencing the genetic code of the Neanderthal, an extinct relative of modern humans.

The physics prize was awarded on Tuesday to three scientists who performed groundbreaking experiments on quantum entanglement – the phenomenon famously described by Einstein as “spooky action at a distance”. Their work laid the foundations for burgeoning research into quantum computers, quantum networks and quantum encrypted communications.

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