The technology to arm scientists in the battle against COVID-19 has won two-fifths of the $3 million breakthrough award-the most profitable award in science and mathematics. An award was given to biochemists who discovered how to smuggle genetic material called messenger RNA into cells to develop a new type of vaccine. Another chemist who was developing next-generation sequencing technology discovered that the technology has been used to quickly track variants of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. The award was announced on September 9.
Yamuna Krishnan, a chemical biologist at the University of Chicago in Illinois, said: “The research awarded by these two awards has had such a big impact on the world, thereby enhancing the status of the Breakthrough Award.” “They have saved millions of lives. “
The vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna has been used worldwide this year. The mRNA delivered by it can instruct cells to produce the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, which in turn stimulates the body to produce antibodies. But for decades, mRNA vaccines have been considered infeasible, because the injection of mRNA will trigger an unwanted immune response that will immediately decompose the mRNA. The winners of the award-Katalin Karikó of the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) in Philadelphia and BioNTech in Mainz, Germany, and Drew Weissman also at the University of Pennsylvania-demonstrated the exchange of a molecule called uridine in mRNA in the mid-2000s. A similar substance called pseudouridine bypasses this immune response.
Jack Szostak, a Nobel laureate chemical biologist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Moderna’s scientific adviser, said: “This is an amazing and incredibly timely award because it opens All this.” “This is particularly inspiring, because in the early days, no one believed it would be useful.”
Carrico recalled the skepticism surrounding her work in the 1990s, which resulted in the rejection of numerous grant proposals and papers (including her now-approved 2005 paper), and forced her to downgrade and cut her salary. “This is certainly not’warping speed’,” she said. Kaliko hopes to use part of the prize money for future research on mRNA vaccines and therapies, such as the treatment of cancer. “I am very happy to be one of the people who have contributed to this [vaccine], But it’s incredible how much progress needs to be made in many areas over the decades,” Karikó said. “I pay tribute to the hundreds of people who participated. “
Shankar Balasubramanian and David Klenerman of the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, and Pascal Mayer of Alphanosos, a French research company, shared an award for inventing a technology in the mid-2000s that allows the imaging and reading of billions of DNA fragments Take parallel, increase the sequencing speed by 10 million times. “I was shocked and honored that we won,” Balasubramanian said.
He recalled his excitement for the Human Genome Project in the 1990s, which relied on Sanger sequencing—a primitive gene sequencing method—to sequence DNA fragments one at a time. But he soon realized that genetic sequencing needed “a huge shift to scale up and make it faster and cheaper to access health care benefits.”
Krishnan likened the leap from Sanger sequencing to next-generation sequencing to the leap from the Wright brothers’ aircraft to the Boeing aircraft. She pointed out that fast and efficient sequencing is also essential for genetic medicine, elucidating protein structure and dynamics, CRISPR gene editing technology, and basic advances in RNA biology.
The third life science prize was awarded to Geoffrey Kelly, a chemical biologist at the Scripps Research Center in La Jolla, California, for his discovery of the part of protein misfolding that causes amyloidosis, a disease that affects including the heart The internal organs may also cause neurodegeneration-and develop effective treatments for them.
Time is right
The Fundamental Physics Breakthrough Prize was shared by the optical physicist Hidetoshi Katori of the University of Tokyo and Jun Ye of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado, USA for their invention of the optical lattice clock-a device with less loss More than one second in 15 billion years, time measurement accuracy is increased by 10,000 times.
Helen Margolis, an optical physicist at the Teddington National Physical Laboratory in the United Kingdom, said that the award was “deservedly”.
Previously the most advanced cesium clock was based on measuring the microwaves emitted by atoms when they switch between two energy states-a process triggered by atomic clouds falling and bombarding them with microwaves. The optical lattice clock impacts strontium atoms with optical light and measures the emitted optical light, the frequency of which is 100,000 times higher than that of microwaves. “This means you can measure faster ticks,” Ye said.
Clocks also use lasers to keep thousands of atoms in a lattice structure for greater precision-but this presents a new challenge. “The act of capturing the atom itself disturbs it,” Ye said. Each energy state is usually distorted to varying degrees. A key trick is to find two energy states that happen to be disturbed by the same amount, so that when the difference between them is measured, this distortion will cancel out.
Margolis said that because of their increased accuracy and stability, “optical lattice clocks can be used to detect effects that have never been seen before.” In 2020, Katori and colleagues reported on the use of two clocks, one at the foot of Tokyo Skytree and the other at 450 meters from the top of the tower, performing the most accurate ground test to date on the general theory. relativity. At the same time, Ye’s team is looking for the effect of the existence of a special dark matter candidate-the mysterious matter that constitutes most of the matter in the universe-on the ticking of the optical clock. Such a clock also helps to improve the early detection of earthquakes and volcanic activity and the accurate measurement of sea level rise.
The Mathematics Breakthrough Prize was awarded to Takuro Mochizuki of Kyoto University, Japan, to expand the understanding of the algebraic structure called “complete D module” (related to certain types of differential equations) to deal with the point where the equation under study is not well defined.
The Russian-Israeli billionaire Yuri Milner created the Breakthrough Award in 2012. These awards are now sponsored by Milner and other Internet entrepreneurs, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (Mark Zuckerberg).
This article is reproduced with authorization and has been First published September 9, 2021.