Presentation Speech by Professor Sara Snogerup Linse, Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences; Member of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry, 10 December 2018.
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Esteemed Nobel Laureates, Ladies and Gentlemen,
We humans believe we know everything. Sometimes it may be more fruitful to acknowledge our incompetence and trust the superior performance of Mother Nature. An element of chance can work wonders in the lab. Just like in everyday life, the level of success may be higher if one allows oneself the luxury of good luck.
Evolution has over billions of years adapted and refined the chemistry of life. This allows various organisms to co-exist and thrive in all sorts of possible and seemingly impossible environments.
In nature, evolution has no plan. Changes that make an organism better adapted to its environment increase the chances for survival and new improvement can be added over generations to come. Frances Arnold had a defined plan when she set up directed evolution in her laboratory. She wanted to make a greener chemical industry and produce biofuels in a sustainable way.
Frances Arnold harnessed the power of evolution and made it a versatile tool for improving nature’s own catalysts, enzymes. She also made it possible to create new biocatalysts that can speed up reactions not seen in nature. Time after time, through smart combinations of knowledge and chance, she created enzymes that are for the greatest benefit of humankind.
The proteins in nature can also make wonders by interacting and intriguing. George Smith developed a method to create very large collections of similar proteins and then using a molecular bait he could fish out the members of the collection that were most strongly attracted to the bait. He constructed his method so that every protein carries with it a recipe for its own production. This feature makes it easy to make new copies of the best proteins and engage them in a tighter competition for the bait.
Gregory Winter sharpened the fishing tools for the development of pharmaceuticals. Antibodies are large and complex molecules, but Winter chose to work with a small fragment that carries all the variation seen among natural antibodies. The result became a powerful method for deriving new antibodies for diagnostics and treatment, antibodies that with high precision can adhere, strongly and persistently, to other molecules or cell surfaces to facilitate or interfere with their duties.
Frances Arnold, George Smith and Gregory Winter:
your work has led to the development of enzymes for a greener chemistry and antibodies that save lives. That is a truly great achievement. On behalf of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences I wish to convey to you our warmest congratulations. May I now ask you to step forward and receive your Nobel Prizes from the hands of His Majesty the King.