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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Scottish, German and Swiss scientists win 2017 Nobel Chemistry Prize

But gene-altering pioneers in the US miss out 

The 2017 Nobel prize for Chemistry goes to(L-R):  Jacques Dubochet,of the University of Lausanne, Switzerland;  Joachim Frank of Columbia University, New York and Richard Henderson of MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge,UK.  Claudio Bresciani / EPA
The 2017 Nobel prize for Chemistry goes to(L-R): Jacques Dubochet,of the University of Lausanne, Switzerland; Joachim Frank of Columbia University, New York and Richard Henderson of MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge,UK. Claudio Bresciani / EPA

Scientists Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson have been awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for developing cryo-electron microscopy which simplifies and improves the imaging of biomolecules.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced the award on Wednesday.

Cryo-electron microscopy has enabled scientists to fill in previously blank spaces in research, generating images of everything from proteins that cause antibiotic resistance, to the surface of the Zika virus.

"This method has moved biochemistry into a new era," said the Academy. "Researchers can now freeze biomolecules mid-movement and visualise processes they have never previously seen, which is decisive for both the basic understanding of life's chemistry and for the development of pharmaceuticals."

Scottish-born scientist Richard Henderson used an electron microscope to generate a three-dimensional image of a protein at an atomic resolution, showing the potential of the technology. His breakthrough was further developed by German-born Joachim Frank, while Jacques Dubochet of Switzerland used rapidly frozen water to preserve the natural shape of the biomolecules.

The award comes with a prize of 9 million Swedish krona (Dh4.08 million) prize.

Chemistry is the third of this year's Nobel Prizes after the winners of the medicine and physics awards were announced earlier this week.

The prizes are named after Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, and have been awarded since 1901 for achievements in science, literature and peace, in accordance with his will.

While the chemistry award has sometimes been overshadowed by the towering reputations of physics winners such as Albert Einstein, past laureates include ground-breaking scientists such as radioactivity pioneers Ernest Rutherford and Marie Curie, though she also won the physics prize.

The award passed over one of the highest-profile fields of research, the so-called CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology that earlier this year allowed US scientists to alter genes in a human embryo to correct a disease-causing mutation.