Longtime MU Professor George Smith Wins 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry | KCUR

Longtime MU Professor George Smith Wins 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Oct 3, 2018
Originally published on October 3, 2018 10:10 am

The University of Missouri has its first ever Nobel Prize.

Professor Emeritus George Smith shares the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with two other researchers, one from Caltech in Pasadena, and the other from the MRC Laboratory in Cambridge. Smith was a professor at MU for 40 years. He won the Nobel for his development of a method called phage display, in which a virus that infects bacteria can be used to evolve new proteins.

University of Missouri spokesperson Christian Basi says this is the first time a MU Professor has been awarded a Nobel Prize.

While the three Nobel Laureates worked generally in the same area of research, they each won for work they had done independently.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences says the three researchers who were awarded this year's Nobel Prize in chemistry "harnessed the power of evolution" to develop enzymes and antibodies that have led to new pharmaceuticals and biofuels.

Frances Arnold of the California Institute of Technology was awarded half the prize for conducting the first directed evolution of enzymes, leading to more environmentally friendly manufacturing of chemicals, including drugs, and in the production of renewable fuels.

Smith and Winter, of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England, share the other half of the prize. Smith developed a new way to evolve proteins and Winter used the method for evolving antibodies with the aim of producing new drugs. The first drug based on this work is used against rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel disease, the academy said.

Smith was quick to credit the work of others in his prize.

"Pretty much every Nobel laureate understands that what he's getting the prize for is built on many precedents, a great number of ideas and research that he is exploiting because he is at the right place at the right time," Smith said. "Very few research breakthroughs are novel. Virtually all of them build on what went on before. It's happenstance. That was certainly the case with my work. Mine was an idea in a line of research that built very naturally on the lines of research that went before."

Smith said he learned of the prize in a pre-dawn phone call from Stockholm.

"It's a standard joke that someone with a Swedish accent calls and says you won! But there was so much static on the line, I knew it wasn't any of my friends," he said.

He said he has "no idea" what he'll do with the prize money. "We're going to give it away, I think. But we'll think hard how we'll do it. It's not just the money, it has a meaning well beyond the money."

Editor's Note: Dr. Smith is the father of one of our recent newsroom employees, Bram Sable-Smith.

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