The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences says a longtime Mizzou professor and two other researchers have been awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for chemistry by “harnessing the power of evolution”. According to the MU News Bureau, George Smith becomes the first University of Missouri professor ever to win the honor.

Photos courtesy of the University of Missouri

The science organization says the 2018 Nobel Laureates in Chemistry have “taken control of evolution and used it for purposes that bring the greatest benefit to humankind”.

Frances Arnold of Caltech in Pasadena gets half of the $1.01 million prize for work leading to the development of new biofuels and pharmaceuticals. Smith and Gregory Winter of the MRC molecular biology lab in Cambridge, England split the other half.

In 1993, Arnold conducted the first directed evolution of enzymes, which are proteins that catalyze chemical reactions. She has refined the methods now routinely used to create new catalysts. The uses of Arnold’s enzymes include more environmentally-friendly manufacturing of chemical substances, such as pharmaceuticals, and the production of renewable fuels.

In 1985, Smith developed a method known as phage display, a virus that infects bacteria, can be used to evolve new proteins.

Winter used Smith’s phage display for the directed evolution of antibodies, with the goal of producing new pharmaceuticals. The first one based on this method was approved in 2002 and is used for rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel diseases. Since then, phage display has produced anti-bodies that can neutralize toxins, counteract autoimmune diseases and cure metastatic cancer.

Smith, who is now retired, was a Mizzou professor for about 40 years in the Division of Biological Sciences.

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