The diversity in the laboratory of the Nobel Bertozzi contributes to its success

This content was published on December 08, 2022 – 08:07

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Stockholm, Dec 8 (EFE).- The laboratory of Carolyn Bertozzi, the eighth woman to win a Nobel Prize in Chemistry, has always been open to all races, ethnicities, sexual orientations and fields of science, a diversity to which the inventor of bioorthogonal chemistry attributes its success.

Bertozzi will receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry this Saturday together with fellow American Barry Sharpless, which is the second time he has won it (the first was in 2001), and the Danish Mortel Mendal.

They invented the so-called click chemistry. An easier and more environmentally friendly way to achieve chemical reactions; she took that technique one step further by applying it to living organisms without altering the cell’s environment: bioorthogonal chemistry was born.

The professor from the University of Standford (USA) explains to Efe that it is now being tested inside the body to attack a type of cancer with a chemotherapeutic drug and, since it is designed to work in animals and living people, she believes that its greatest applications will be in biomedicine and basic research.

Born in 1966, she is the eighth woman to win the Nobel Prize in her discipline, she is a lesbian – she is married with three children – and knows very well the value and power of diversity.

On the website of his laboratory it is read that it includes researchers of all races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, gender identities and abilities, fostering an open space in which they can learn from each other and “act to combat the inequalities of the system in The science”.

This diversity approach makes the work result “better,” Bertozzi says, recalling that when he started his own lab in 1996, the first group of graduating students was all women.

At that time, when they used to represent only ten percent, “it was impossible.” Over the years he has achieved a “very good balance between genders, almost always 50/50”, as well as people from the most varied scientific fields.

When he started thinking about bioorthogonal chemistry, the lab was already “very diverse in terms of scientific disciplines, gender and racial diversity.”

Thus, “you begin to feel that you do not have to follow the same rules as the rest.” While other labs thought it was “crazy” to do chemistry on live animals, his group said: “We are different, let’s do something different. I think (diversity) gave us freedom.”

In fact, he attributes his success in science to that diversity. “I don’t know if I would otherwise be sitting here (in a room at the Swedish Academy of Sciences)” and considers that she was very lucky to have such a “crazy group of people who wanted to try something new” and work for a young woman through mid nineties.

In a perfect world, no one would care that Bertozzi is gay, but the world is not perfect – recalls the Nobel Prize – and people “can be discriminated against for cultural or historical reasons that have nothing to do with your life as a human being.”

She says she is lucky because she lives in the Bay Area in San Francisco, “which is a very liberal area”, but if she had been born in other parts of the world, everything would have been different, because there are places where she, just because she is gay, is not “Safe as a simple human being.”

“To the extent that people who live in places where they are persecuted and look for a reason to hope for their future, if I can be someone who gives them hope, I would be very happy,” he says.

In his youth there were times when he also needed models and hope. It was the 1980s and if you were a coming out gay person and you were in a relationship “it wasn’t clear that you could have a future or a career” because you could be fired, “you couldn’t even dream of having a family”.

Bioorthogonal chemistry, Bertozzi’s great invention, is designed to work in humans without toxic side effects and that makes it, “by default”, respectful of the environment, although the Nobel laureate knows that, despite its importance, Chemistry, in general, usually gets a bad press.

“It would be great if I had a good public relations”, as it happens in physics, astrophysics or biology. However, he laughs when he remembers that when that kind of spokesperson finally appeared, it was the series “Breaking Bad”, in which the chemist made drugs. In any case, it was one of his “favorite series”. EFE



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The diversity in the laboratory of the Nobel Bertozzi contributes to its success