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Nobel prize in chemistry goes to scientist trio for 3-D imaging of biomolecules

A trio of scientists that discovered a way to 3-D image biomolecules won the 2017 Nobel prize in chemistry.

Jacques Dubochet of the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, Joachim Frank from the Columbia University in New York, and Richard Henderson of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in the U.K. won the prize.

A prize amount of 9 million Swedish krona will be shared equally by the laureates.

Richard Henderson, who is also the founder of Heptares Therapeutics, successfully used an electron microscope to generate a 3-D image of a protein at atomic resolution in 1990. Electron microscopes were previously believed to be only suitable for imaging dead matter.

The technology was made applicable by Joachim Frank between 1975 and 1986 when he developed a processing method to create 3-D images by merging an electron microscope's 2-D images.

Jacques Dubochet added water to electron microscopy. Liquid water evaporates in the microscope's vacuum, which makes the biomolecules collapse. He succeeded in solidifying water in its liquid form around a biological sample, allowing the biomolecules to retain their natural shape even in a vacuum.

Due to the collective work of the laureates over the years, the electron microscope went through a number of changes and achieved desired atomic resolution in 2013. Researchers can now routinely produce 3-D structures of biomolecules ranging from proteins to viruses.

Heptares Therapeutics is a Sosei Group Corp. subsidiary.

As of Oct. 3, US$1 was equivalent to 8.13 Swedish krona.