Saturday, October 26, 2013

Introduction to Nobel Prizes 2013 – III : Chemistry

Are you of the firm opinion that the best use of a computer is to share your vacation pictures on Facebook? Think again. How about helping to create new medicines?
But, before we get to computers and medicine, we have one stop to make - proteins. Proteins are present in every cell of our body. Many parts of body are made of proteins. The proteins like hormones and enzymes control the chemistry of the body.
We also remind ourselves that molecules are the smallest parts of a material. Suppose you have got a bit of common salt in your hand. You split it into two. Take one part and again split it into two. You do this again and again and the salt will become really small. After a while you won’t see it. But it will still be salt. Don’t stop splitting. The last particle that can respectfully call itself salt is a molecule of salt. You split it more and it is no longer salt.
Now, thus prepared, let’s go to medicine.
Many medicines work by attaching themselves with proteins. A molecule of the medicine meets a molecule of a protein. What they do after meeting decides whether you are going to feel better or going to stay in bed longer.
The minutes of meeting of drug and protein molecules is thus the key to finding new medicines. These details are too complicated to be written on the back of a bus ticket, however. They are too much even for a notebook page, or the whole notebook, for that matter.
The scientists who were honoured by the Nobel Prize for Chemistry this year discovered how these molecular meetings can be imagined using computer. Their work is being used not only for making new medicines, but also to understand how green plants make food in their leaves, and how we can process sewage, to give a few examples.
Three scientists shared the prize. All three work in the U.S., but hail from different countries.
Martin Karplus is 83 years old and comes from Austria. He teaches in Harvard University and a university in France.
66 years old Michael Levitt is British and associated with Stanford. He is a Israeli citizen.
Arieh Warshel, 72, is also an Israeli citizen. He does his research in University of Southern California.
The most astounding thing is, they did this work forty years ago, when computers were rare. There were no personal computers, only large computers owned by institutions. Their work was not treated with enthusiasm initially. Their colleagues in chemistry thought it was a waste of time.
But as computers became more powerful and more familiar, the work of Karplus, Warchel and Levitt became important to scientific community and the industry. Today, many pharmaceutical companies use this technology to discover new drugs.

No comments:

Post a Comment