Chemistry brings Nobel scientists to a close

STOCKHOLM | Sequencing and cutting of genes, nanocrystals, innovative chemical reaction … The last of the three Nobel scientists to be awarded this week, the chemistry prize is awarded on Wednesday, after the medicine that went to the discoverers of hepatitis C and physics to the mysteries of “black holes”.

• Read also: “Very few people understand what a black hole is,” says Nobel Laureate Andrea Ghez

• Read also: In the midst of a pandemic, the Nobel Prize for medicine awarded to discoverers of the hepatitis C virus

• Read also: Nobel Prize in Physics to a trio of “black hole” experts

The prestigious award must be awarded from 11:45 am (5:45 am in Quebec) in Stockholm.

A major biomedical discovery, often also cited for a medicine prize, could be rewarded: the “Crispr scissors”, which cut a specific gene, developed in particular by the Frenchwoman Emmanuelle Charpentier and the American Jennifer Doudna.

The mechanism is easy to use, inexpensive, and allows scientists to cut DNA exactly where they want it, for example to create or correct a genetic mutation and to treat rare diseases.

While the breakthrough is undisputed, the discovery is recent, and still the subject of patent disputes, complicating matters, experts say.

Another pioneer in genetics, the American Leroy Hood, could be credited for his work on genome sequencing, according to Swedish radio SR.

According to the specialist institute Clarivate, which forecasts possible winners each year, the Nobel Prize in chemistry could also go to the American duo Stephen Buchwald and John Hartwig for “their contributions to organometallic chemistry” and in particular a reaction which now bears their two names.

This Buchwald-Hartwig reaction, developed by the two researchers in the 1990s, is particularly widely used by the pharmaceutical industry for the manufacture of drugs such as Glivec, an anticancer drug developed by Novartis, according to the CNRS.

Nanocrystals, also called “quantum dots” and studied by South Korean Taeghwan Hyeon, Tunisian-American Moungi Bawendi and Canadian Christopher Murray could also be celebrated. As well as the work of the Americans Harry Gray, Richard Holm and Stephen Lippard on the role of metal ions in biology.

Five award-winning women

The 2019 chemistry prize was awarded to a trio: the American John Goodenough – crowned at 97, a record – the British Stanley Whittingham and the Japanese Akira Yoshino, for the invention of lithium-ion batteries, today present in many everyday technologies.

Only five women have won the Nobel in chemistry since 1901, out of 183 men: Marie Curie (1911), her daughter Irène Joliot-Curie (1935), Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin (1964), Ada Yonath (2009) and Frances Arnold (2018) .

Medicine opened the 2020 Nobel Balls on Monday with the coronations of Americans Harvey Alter and Charles Rice, alongside Briton Michael Houghton, for their role in the discovery of the virus responsible for hepatitis C.

The physics prize on Tuesday won the Briton Roger Penrose, the German Reinhard Genzel and the American Andrea Ghez, three pioneers of space research on “black holes”.

The Literature Prize, the most anticipated event for the general public with Friday Peace in Oslo, will be announced Thursday by the Swedish Academy.

Critics interviewed by AFP referred to fifteen nobelists, with profiles ranging from Caribbean-American Jamaica Kincaid to Albanian Ismaïl Kadaré, including Canadian Anne Carson and French Michel Houellebecq.

As for peace, the prize is particularly open this year, but experts lean more for press freedom or Greta Thunberg and young people committed to the climate.

The more recently created Savings Prize will close the season on Monday.

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