Nobel Prize on Chemistry has been awarded for the development of
methodologies (Mass Spec & NMR) for the identification & structural analysis of
biological macromolecules, especially proteins.
John B. Fenn of Virginia Commonwealth University and
Koichi Tanaka of the
Shimadzu Corp. of Kyoto, Japan helped develop soft desorption ionization techniques
for mass spectrometric analyses of proteins, and Kurt Wüthrich of Swiss Federal
Institute of Technology for his development of NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance)
spectroscopy for determining the three-dimensional structure of biological
macromolecules in solution.
These methodologies reveal not
only what different proteins a sample contains, but allow one
to image 3-D pictures showing what protein molecules look like in solution. Such methods
have revolutionized the development of new pharmaceuticals.
Mass spectrometry is a very important analytical method used in practically all molecular
labs around the world. Fenn and Tanaka developed methods in 1988, called electrospray
ionization (ESI), that make it possible to analyze biological proteins as well. Tanaka
also developed soft laser desorption, where a laser pulse hits a sample and is “blasted”
into small bits, so that the molecules are released and their mass can be easily determined.
Nuclear magnetic resonance, NMR, can provide information on the 3D-structure and
dynamics of protein molecules. Wüthrich modified NMR for proteins, developing a method
of systematically assigning and measuring the distances between certain fixed points within
a protein molecule, thus calculating its 3D-structure in solution, similar to what one might
sees in a living cell.