Science for All S05E04: The 2022 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and the Other Science Nobel Prizes – The Science of the Francis Mule

I recommend you listen to episode S05E04, “The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2022”, 06 Oct 2022 [a partir de 01:19:38 min.]of the radio program “Science for Everyone”, in which I participate together with Enrique Viguera (University of Malaga), coordinator of Encounters with Science. This weekly section of the program “Hoy por Hoy Málaga” presented by Esther Luque Doblas (and on this occasion by Isabel Ladrón de Guevara), which is broadcast every Thursday (today exceptionally it was broadcast on a Wednesday) on Cadena SER Málaga ( 102.4 FM) around 1:30 p.m. Enrique and I have intervened from our own homes.

We have interviewed Doctor Ezequiel Pérez-Inestrosa Villatoro, Professor of the Department of Organic Chemistry at the University of Malaga, to tell us about the 2022 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. We wanted to present the connection of the Nobel Prize winners with our university, so we also talked of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in line with Enrique’s collaboration with the Pääbo group. And I do not forget to mention the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physics, although his relationship with Malaga is not so direct. More information about these prizes in «Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2022: Svante Pääbo for paleogenomics and the Neanderthal genome», LCMF, 03 Oct 2022; “Nobel Prize in Physics 2022: Aspect, Clauser and Zeilinger for pioneering the use of quantum entanglement in quantum information”, LCMF, 04 Oct 2022; “Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2022: Meldal and Sharpless for one-click chemistry, and Bertozzi for bioorthogonal chemistry”, LCMF, 05 Oct 2022.

You can listen to the episode on Play SER, “The 2022 Nobel Prize in Chemistry”, 06 Oct 2022 [a partir de 01:19:38 min.].

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Esther: We are in the week of science, in which the Nobel Prizes for science are announced, although the award ceremony for the medals will be on December 10. This week hundreds of scientists from all over the world get nervous waiting for a phone call from Sweden. But the majority will stay with the desire, because at most nine can receive it. On Monday, October 3, the Nobel Prize in Medicine was announced. Enrique, will you be happy because it’s a genetics issue?

Enrique: The Swedish Svante Pääbo, who is researching in Germany, is the father of paleogenomics and has won the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Paleogenology is a discipline that allows DNA to be extracted from fossil remains «and to get to know characters such as , for example, hair color, skin color, blood group or even family relationships if we have found several individuals». Svante led the sequencing of the genome of the Neanderthal man, extinct between 30,000 and 40,000 years ago. As the father of this discipline he has received this well-deserved award.

«I have not collaborated directly with Pääbo, but with one of the members of his group, Dr. Matthias Meyer. In fact, in June of this year Professor Ana Grande and I were at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology where Svante works, where we gave two seminars. Everyone is very happy, of course.”

Some of our listeners will remember that in April 2019 we spoke on the program about the paleogenomics of the Iberian Peninsula. I collaborate with a research team from the Sima del Ángel, in Lucena, Córdoba, led by Cecilio Barroso, «who published an article in Science with Svante. High-quality DNA samples were extracted there, which were integrated into a project directed by Carles Lalueza-Fox throughout the Iberian Peninsula. This article was published in the journal Science and reconstructed the genetic history of all the inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula since the Neolithic, 8,000 years ago, using ancient DNA analysis techniques that were developed by Pääbo’s team. I was very happy that he received a well-deserved Nobel Prize in Medicine.

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Esther: On Tuesday, October 4, the Nobel Prize in Physics was announced. Francis, were you able to predict who the winners were?

Francis: Every year I post a Nobel Prize prediction on my blog. This year I predicted seven researchers on Sunday and I got four of them right, more by chance than anything else: the three winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics and the winner of the Chemistry Prize. The fathers of quantum information technologies, key to the future quantum internet and future quantum computers, the Frenchman Alain Aspect, the American John Clauser and the Austrian Anton Zeilinger were the strongest Nobel candidates for more than 20 years. And it was their turn, that’s why I predicted that they would receive the Nobel last year, and I failed, but I decided to repeat the prediction this year, and I was right.

Clauser did a series of experiments in the early 1970s, Aspect in the early 1980s, and Zeilinger in the 1990s that showed that the quantum nature of reality is not compatible with the existence of a classical statistical theory. underlying, as great scientists like Einstein thought. These experiments were revolutionary in their time. But the most important thing is that these experiments were the basis for a series of quantum technologies that began to be developed during the 1990s and that in this century have made it possible to develop the first quantum computers and commercial information encryption systems based on quantum cryptography. The experiments of the winners are today in common use in all quantum physics laboratories in the world.

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Esther: Francis, being a physicist, were you also able to predict the winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry? Don’t they say that physicists know very little about chemistry?

Francis: That’s right, Esther, we physicists study very little Chemistry in our career. But this year the American Carolyn Bertozzi, the mother of bioorthogonal chemistry, was in all the pools for the Nobel. So she predicted that she would win this year and I guessed a third of the prize.

There were several chemists who could accompany her in this award, among them the American Barry Sharpless, who had already received a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2001; The truth is, I did not dare to include him in my prediction last Sunday because it seemed almost impossible that he would receive a second Nobel Prize. But I was wrong, to my surprise and the surprise of many, Sharpless has won his second Nobel Prize, together with the Danish Morten Meldal, the third winner, both for having conceived the so-called click chemistry (which I like to call chemistry in one click).

Only five scientists in all of history have received two Nobel Prizes, the first being Marie Curie in Physics in 1903 and in Chemistry in 1911. And only one chemist had received two Nobel Prizes in Chemistry, Frederick Sanger, who received them in 1958 and 1980. And now there are two living chemists with this achievement.

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Esther: The best thing is that this Nobel Prize in Chemistry is told to us by a chemist who has used click chemistry in his laboratory. We have Doctor Ezequiel Pérez-Inestrosa Villatoro, Professor of the Department of Organic Chemistry at the University of Malaga, on the phone. [Saludos] First of all, are you related to Francis?

Ezequiel: «No, the truth is that on some occasion in which we have coincided we have commented on it, but we have not found common origins».

Esther: What is click chemistry? It seems like a very strange name for a branch of chemistry. Why is it called click chemistry?

Ezequiel: “Click chemistry, or rather the concept of click, is being developed by these award-winning researchers, but I think a distinction should be made between the two chemists, Barry Sharpless and Morten Medal, and the chemist, Carolyn Bertozzi. The two chemists propose and develop the concept of click chemistry in vitro, that is, in the laboratory, in flasks, in reactors, etc. The idea is to build large molecules from small molecules. The idea is to emulate LEGO, which with small pieces allows you to create larger objects. The key to the click concept is that the reaction is done simply, very efficiently, very quickly and that it achieves significant yields and efficiencies. It was first applied to a chemical reaction called copper-catalyzed alkyne-azide cycloaddition, a long name but one that describes to chemists everything involved. With this reaction, two molecules are joined to build a larger molecule that can have the utility or application that is considered.

Francis: The other laureate, Morten Meldal, discovered a chemical reaction called copper-catalyzed alkyne-azide cycloaddition, which is the paradigm of the click reaction. Ezequiel, could you tell us in a simple language that our listeners can understand what this reaction consists of and what role copper plays in this reaction?

Ezequiel: “Copper is a catalyst, a substance that in small amounts causes the reaction to occur. Without copper the reaction does not occur, if we mix the two fragments they do not join, unless there is copper in the middle. The copper, let’s say, triggers the reaction and makes the process very efficient.”

Francis: Copper is toxic to living things. The work of the awardee, Carolyn Bertozzi, was to replace it with a substance that was not toxic. By the way, she is a lesbian and a great activist of the LGTBIQ+ collective. The entire group has been very happy that for the first time a Nobel Prize in science has gone to someone in the group. Ezequiel, what is Bertozzi’s contribution to her bioorthogonal chemistry applied to biological systems?

Ezkiel: «The name is bioorthogonal, it is not biorthogonal; it is often confused with twice orthogonal. Bioorthogonal consists of doing exactly the same thing as Sharpless and Meldal’s click chemistry, but not in vitro, but inside a living cell. Carrying out this reaction in a living entity, in a biological system, which allows the creation of new molecules for the corresponding in situ study. His great contribution is to take the necessary step so that the reaction occurs within the cells that are alive ».

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Esther: Professor, have you used these click and bioorthogonal chemistries in the laboratories of the University of Malaga?

Ezequiel: «Our research group uses everything that allows us to develop science efficiently; At some point, for some applications and with certain objectives, we have developed this type of reaction. And they are developed in other Andalusian laboratories».

Esther: To give specific examples, what are the advances in chemistry achieved by Bertozzi, Meldal and Sharpless for? How do they affect us in our current lives?

Ezequiel: «The fundamental objective is to use a very efficient chemical reaction that can be carried out in an aqueous medium, a solvent typical of living systems. For this reason, it allows the development of new drugs, new systems for monitoring the interactions between certain molecules and living beings, interaction both at the membrane level and internalized within the cell. The advances of the laureates have made it possible to greatly advance research and knowledge on many applications in pharmacology and other areas, with a great impact on our society.”

Francis: And let us not forget that, apart from the applications in living systems, drug development and, above all, the application in basic science for the study of the behavior of certain molecules of the cell membrane, works linked to Bertozzi, the work of Meldal and Sharpless has been fundamental in the chemical industry, for the development of many chemical products, such as herbicides, brighteners, corrosion retardants, etc. There are tons of chemicals today that are made with chemical reactions that use the concept of click chemistry.

Esther: We thank Doctor Ezequiel Pérez-Inestrosa Villatoro, Professor of the Department of Organic Chemistry at the University of Malaga, for explaining this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry, how it is applied at the UMA and what applications it has. [Despedida y cierre].

We would like to say thanks to the writer of this article for this remarkable content

Science for All S05E04: The 2022 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and the Other Science Nobel Prizes – The Science of the Francis Mule