Nobel Prize for directed evolution

Written By: Mora Bustos

Believe it or not, scientists have been able to speed up evolution in a lab, creating batches products with their chosen traits.

This October, the Nobel Prize for Chemistry was awarded to Frances Arnold, George Smith, and Gregory Winter for their work with directed evolution. Directed evolution is the process of using the principles of evolution to selectively breed traits in biological molecules at an accelerated pace in a lab.

While Arnold worked with enzymes used to manufacture biofuels and pharmaceuticals, Smith and Winter evolved new proteins and antibodies which can help cure a variety of illnesses.

The main significance of this research is what it means for evolution itself and its continued study of it in a lab setting. Its effects can be far-reaching.

“I’d like to see evolution taught more in schools and the benefits of scientific evolution used more, especially with its potential in health,” biology teacher Ms. Wright said.

Advances in the study of evolution could help cure a variety of autoimmune and genetic diseases. However, there is a high degree of uncertainty in this area of research, which can translate into ethical gray areas.

“In any kind of biochemical research there are ethical issues,” chemistry teacher Mr. Pendola said. “There is the religious aspect, where the concern for the effects of humans ‘playing God’ arise, and the societal view when tests could reach a human stage and treatment could be administered to patients.”

We are in the early stages of directed evolution, but who knows what the future will hold for the field.

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