Virtual Issue - 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry Winners

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  • Published: Oct 9, 2017
  • Channels: Raman
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The 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to Professor Jacques Dubochet, Dr Joachim Frank and Dr Richard Henderson for the development of cryo-electron microscopy for imaging of biomolecules in solution. It was long believed that electron microscopy was only suitable for the study of dead tissues, as biological material was rapidly destroyed by the powerful electron beam. The development of cryo-electron microscopy changed that view, allowing scientists to analyse biological molecules mid-movement, offering an exciting insight to the structure and function of biomolecules.

In 1990 Dr Henderson used electron microscopy to create the first 3D images of proteins at atomic resolution. From 1975 to 1986 Dr Frank developed methods to make electron microscopy more generally accessible. The images acquired by electron microscopists were originally 2D and noisy, but he developed the image processing methods required to convert the noisy images to a sharp 3D structure. Professor Dubochet made it possible to image biomolecules in their natural shape by adding water to electron microscopy. Usually water would evaporate the vacuum of the electron microscope, causing biomolecules to collapse. By developing a method to vitrify water, rapidly cooling it so it solidified around the biological sample, ensuring that the biomolecules keep their shape when exposed to a vacuum.

These processes are now part of mainstream microscopy and have been applied to a range of scientific studies, including analysing the surface of the Zika virus and the shape of proteins that cause antibiotic resistance. To celebrate the award of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry we present articles by Professor Dubochet and Dr Frank published in the Journal of Microscopy.

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