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Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2017 goes to EU-funded researchers for optimising electron microscopes to study living matter

Brussels, 4 October 2017

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2017 has been awarded jointly to Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson for the development of cryo-electron microscopy, which simplifies and improves the imaging of biomolecules. Two of the laureates, Jacques Dubochet and Richard Henderson, have participated in EU-funded research projects.

Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, said: "I warmly congratulate Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson on their achievement. I am proud to see that EU support has helped two of this year's Nobel Prize laureates to move biochemistry into a new era, which will ultimately benefit the society and economy."

Jacques Dubochet is Honorary Professor of Biophysics at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. Richard Henderson is Programme Leader at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK. Earlier, they both participated in projects that received funding from the EU's sixth and seventh R&I funding framework programme.

Professor Dubochet, for example, participated in the 3D-EM project, which received EU contribution of €10 million. The project focused on developing new electron microscopy approaches for studying protein complexes and cellular supramolecular architecture.

Professor Henderson, on the other hand, took part in the INSTRUCT project, which received EU funding of €4.5 million for building infrastructure for structural biology studies. He also participated in the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Intra-European Fellowship MEMBRANE PROTEASES project, which was looking into cellular signaling.

Furthermore, Richard Henderson and Joachim Frank have both provided external expertise to the European Research Council in its peer review evaluations, and the latter also worked as an independent evaluator of applications for funding under the sixth framework programme.

The discoveries of the three Nobel Prize laureates have greatly contributed to optimising the electron microscopes for studying living matter. Previously, electron microscopes were believed to only be suitable for imaging dead matter, because the powerful electron beam destroys biological material. The desired atomic resolution was reached in 2013, and researchers can now routinely produce three-dimensional structures of biomolecules. As a result, scientific literature in the past few years has been filled with images of everything from proteins that cause antibiotic resistance, to the surface of the Zika virus. This kind of imaging is key to understanding, as scientific breakthroughs often build upon the successful visualisation of objects invisible to the human eye.