(by Karl Ritter and Malin Rising, The Salt Lake Tribune) AP, Stockholm — Two Americans and a German scientist won the Nobel Prize in chemistry Wednesday for finding ways to make microscopes more powerful than previously thought possible, allowing scientists to see how diseases develop inside the tiniest cells.
Working independently of each other, U.S. researchers Eric Betzig and William Moerner and Stefan Hell of Germany shattered previous limits on the resolution of optical microscopes by using glowing molecules to peer inside tiny components of life.
Their breakthroughs, starting in the 1990s, have enabled scientists to study diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s at a molecular level, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said.
“Due to their achievements the optical microscope can now peer into the nanoworld,” the academy said, giving the $1.1 million award jointly to the three scientists for “the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy.”
Betzig, 54, works at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Ashburn, Virginia. Hell, 51, is director of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Goettingen, Germany, and also works at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg. Moerner, 61, is a professor at Stanford University in California.
“I was totally surprised, I couldn’t believe it,” said Hell, who was born in Romania. “Fortunately, I [recognized] the voice of Nordmark and I realized it was real,” he added, referring to Staffan Nordmark, the academy’s permanent secretary.
The Nobel judges didn’t immediately reach Moerner, who was at a conference in Brazil. He found out about the prize from his wife after she was told by The Associated Press.
“I’m incredibly excited and happy to be included with Eric Betzig and Stefan Hell,” Moerner told the AP.
For a long time optical microscopes were limited by, among other things, the wavelength of light. So scientists believed they could never yield a resolution better than 0.2 micrometers.
But the three scientists were able to break that limit by using molecules that glow on command. The advance took optical microscopy into a new dimension that made it possible to study the interplay between molecules inside cells, including the aggregation of disease-related proteins, the academy said.
“We can at least dream now about being able to see within the cell on the molecular level, which is where all the action is,” Betzig said in a statement released by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. “If we can do that, and study dynamics at that level, our understanding of cell biology and molecular biology should skyrocket.”
Hell has used these methods to study nerve cells to get a better understanding of brain synapses; Moerner has studied proteins related to Huntington’s disease; and Betzig has tracked cell division inside embryos, the academy said.
Hell said he was convinced that as a result of the discovery scientists will be able to find out more quickly what happens in a cell when a disease emerges.
“Any disease, in the end, can be boiled down to a malfunctioning of the cell,” he said. “And in order to understand what a disease actually means, you have to understand the cell and you have to understand the malfunction.”
Moerner said scientists can now tell whether individual molecules are different or the same.
“It’s very much like asking whether they all march to the same drummer or not,” Moerner told the AP. “When you can watch one by one, then we are able to observe exactly when it changes from one state to another.”
The technology lets scientists see “way below” the traditional limit for resolving detail with light microscopes, said Catherine Lewis, director of the cell biology and biophysics division of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.
“You can observe the behavior of individual molecules in living cells in real time. You can see … molecules moving around inside the cell. You can see them interacting with each other,” she said.
That gives a foundation for research into controlling those interactions in a way that may treat or diagnose disease, she said.[While scientists can get still finer resolution by using an electron microscope, that device can’t be used to examine cells that are alive.
“You really need to be able to look at living cells because life is animate – it’s what defines life,” Betzig said.
Hell said that close look can shed light on disease. “Any disease, in the end, can be boiled down to a malfunctioning of the cell,” he said. “And in order to understand what a disease actually means, you have to understand the cell and you have to understand the malfunction.”]
Nobel committee member Claes Gustafsson called the laureates’ work “a revolution, because as recently as 15 years ago, it was believed to be theoretically impossible to break this barrier.”
Alex Chihak in Phoenix, Frank Jordans in Berlin and Malcolm Ritter in New York contributed to this report.
From the Associated Press. Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from The Salt Lake Tribune. Visit the website at sltrib .com.
1. a) Who won the Nobel Prize for chemistry this year?
b) What did the men do to be awarded the Nobel in chemistry? Be specific.
2. How does the scientists’ work change what can be done with the optical microscope? (see para. 9-10)
3. What does the scientists’ discovery now allow researchers to do? Be specific.
4. What might be possible in the future as a result of this advance? (see para. 11)
5. What does Stefan Hell believe will be a result of this discovery?
6. What does William Moerner say scientists will now be able to distinguish?
7. Why does Nobel committee member Claes Gustafsson call the laureates’ work “a revolution”?
8. What inspires you most about this story? Why?
- Every year since 1901 the Nobel Prize has been awarded for achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and for peace.
- The Nobel Prize is an international award administered by the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden.
- In 1968, Sveriges Riksbank established The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prize.
- Each prize consists of a medal, personal diploma, and a cash award.
This year’s Nobel announcements started Monday with U.S.-British scientist John O’Keefe splitting the medicine award with Norwegian couple May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser for breakthroughs in brain cell research that could pave the way for a better understanding of diseases like Alzheimer’s.
On Tuesday, Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano of Japan and U.S. scientist Shuji Nakamura won physics award for the invention of blue light-emitting diodes — a breakthrough that spurred the development of LED technology that can be used to light up homes and offices and the screens of mobile phones, computers and TVs.
The Nobel Prize in literature will be announced Thursday, followed by the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday and the economics prize on Monday.
The prizes are always handed out in ceremonies on Dec. 10, the date that prize founder Alfred Nobel died in 1896. (from the sltrib/AP article above)
Read more about the Nobel laureates in chemistry at nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry and about the 2014 winners at:
Read about the Nobel Prize at nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/faq.html. (See right vertical nav bar for links to further information on the Nobel Prize.)
Dr. Eric Betzig is one of three recipients of this years Nobel Prize for Chemistry. In 2011, he showed Reuters what his team at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute calls the ‘Bessel beam plane illumination microscope.’:
Eric Betzig was in Germany preparing for a keynote when he got the news that he had been awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry together with Stefan W. Hell and William E. Moerner. Hear about how he reacted with ”equal measures of happiness and fear” when he got the call from Stockholm. The interviewer is Adam Smith, Chief Scientific Officer at Nobel Media.:
Stefan W. Hell was going through the details of a paper when he got the news that he had been awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry together with Eric Betzig and William E. Moerner. He then finished reading the paragraph – and then called his wife. Her his reaction when he got the call from Stockholm. The interviewer is Adam Smith, Chief Scientific Officer at Nobel Media.
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