Three researchers based in the United States, United Kingdom and Switzerland have won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developments in electron microscopy.
- Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson are awarded the prize
- Cryo-electron microscopy allows researchers to "freeze biomolecules" mid-movement
- Development is decisive for basic understanding of life's chemistry and development of pharmaceuticals
The 9 million Swedish kronor ($1.4 million) prize is shared by Jacques Dubochet of the University of Lausanne, Joachim Frank at New York's Columbia University and Richard Henderson of MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said their method, called cryo-electron microscopy, allowed researchers to "freeze biomolecules" mid-movement and visualise processes they had never previously seen.
The development, it said, "is decisive for both the basic understanding of life's chemistry and for the development of pharmaceuticals".
Cryo-electron microscopy has enabled scientists to fill in previously blank spaces in research, generating images of everything from proteins that cause antibiotic resistance, to the surface of the Zika virus.
"This method has moved biochemistry into a new era," the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awards Nobel prizes, said in a statement.
"Researchers can now freeze biomolecules mid-movement and visualise processes they have never previously seen, which is decisive for both the basic understanding of life's chemistry and for the development of pharmaceuticals."
Scottish-born scientist Henderson used an electron microscope to generate a three-dimensional image of a protein at an atomic resolution, showing the potential of the technology.
His breakthrough was further developed by German-born scientist Frank, while Dubochet of Switzerland used rapidly frozen water to preserve the natural shape of the biomolecules.
Two more Nobel prizes to be announced
The annual prize rewards researchers for major advances in studying the infinitesimal bits of material that are the building blocks of life.
Recent prizes have gone to scientists who developed molecular "machines" — molecules with controllable motions — and who mapped how cells repair damaged DNA, leading to improved cancer treatments.
It is the third Nobel announced this week.
Earlier this week, three scientists who spent decades in search of gravitational waves were awarded the Nobel Physics Prize and three scientists who made discoveries about the body's daily rhythms were recognised with the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.
The prizes are named after Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, and have been awarded since 1901 for achievements in science, literature and peace, in accordance with his will.