The Nobel for “click chemistry”, with a very rare double winner

published on Wednesday, October 05, 2022 at 14:54

They have broken new ground with a “Lego” of chemistry: the Nobel Prize for Chemistry was crowned on Wednesday by the Danish Morten Meldal, the American Carolyn Bertozzi and her compatriot Barry Sharpless, who achieved the extremely rare feat of winning a second Nobel 21 years apart.

The trio is awarded “for the development of chemistry + click + and bioorthogonal chemistry”, used in particular to develop the best pharmaceutical treatments, including against cancer, the jury announced in its ruling.

Barry Sharpless, 81, is only the fifth person to win a Nobel twice. He had already won the prize for chemistry in 2001 for his discoveries on the technique of asymmetric catalysis.

The Franco-Polish Marie Curie had been the first at the beginning of the 20th century (physics 1903, chemistry 1911), followed much later by the American Linus Pauling (chemistry 1954 and peace 1962), the American John Bardeen (physics 1956 and 1972) and the British Frederick Sanger (chemistry 1958 and 1980).

The California-based two-time winner and Dane Morten Meldal, 58, of the University of Copenhagen, are crowned for their pioneering work on “click chemistry,” a new way of combining molecules, the jury explained.

– Eighth woman in chemistry –

The latter is mainly used to develop pharmaceutical treatments, map DNA or create new materials.

“Carolyn Bertozzi has taken click chemistry to a new level,” praised the Nobel jury.

“I’m absolutely in awe. I’m sitting there and it’s hard to breathe,” said the winner along with the organizers.

She becomes the eighth woman to win the chemistry prize, succeeding French Emmanuelle Charpentier and American Jennifer Doudna (2020).

After a very masculine 2021 vintage (12 men and one woman, none for scientific prizes), the year 2022 had followed this trend so far, with the Swedish Svante Päabo and Alain Aspect (France), John Clauser (USA) and Anton Zeilinger (Austria) in physics.

“We are only seeing the tip of the iceberg, but their chemistry will change the world,” Angela Wilson, president of the American Chemical Society, told AFP.

“You can really see it as a Lego game. The chemistry + click + is like putting together two Lego pieces,” says the specialist.

– Legs shaking –

“Startups are starting to use these technologies, but I think we’re only at the beginning of their uses. I think it will revolutionize everything from medicine to materials,” he adds.

The Danish winner confided his “big scare” when he received the famous phone call from Stockholm, shortly before the announcement.

“My legs were almost shaking afterward,” Morten Meldal told Swedish public radio SR, saying he was very happy to share this award with these two, because they have really achieved great things in this field.

With “new molecular architectures,” his discoveries allow advances “in materials science, in surface science, in chemistry in general, and in the pharmaceutical industry,” he stressed.

Last year, the German Benjamin List and the British David Macmillan were consecrated in chemistry for having invented a new type of catalyst to manufacture new molecules, at a lower cost and in a cleaner way.

Like the other Nobel prizes, the Chemistry prize is endowed with 10 million crowns (about 920,000 euros), to be distributed in the case of co-winners.

On Monday, Svante Pääbo, father of Denisovan man and discoverer of Neanderthal man’s DNA, was crowned for his foundational work in a new science, paleogenomics.

On Tuesday, Alain Aspect, Anton Zeilinger and John Clauser won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their discoveries of the revolutionary mechanism of “quantum entanglement,” proving Albert Einstein himself wrong about this unlikely quantum mechanical phenomenon.

The week continues with the two most anticipated prizes, the one for literature on Thursday and the one for peace on Friday, the only one to be awarded in Oslo. Then the most recent cheap price, on Monday.

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