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Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2018

The 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Frances H. Arnold “for the directed evolution of enzymes” and the other half jointly to George P. Smith and Gregory P. Winter “for the phage display of peptides and antibodies”. Together their pioneering work harnesses the processes of evolution for the generation of novel biological compounds. These tools have transformed the production of pharmaceuticals such as monoclonal antibodies and renewable fuels.

This Collection presents research, review, news and comment articles from Nature Research to celebrate the award. The collection content is editorially independent and the sole responsibility of Springer Nature.

Core collection – free

Recent advances in areas such as natural product biosynthesis, synthetic biology and the development of biosensors are providing new opportunities to directly harness evolutionary pressure to identify and optimize compounds with desired bioactivities. This article describes innovations in the key components of such strategies, highlights pioneering examples that indicate their potential, and discusses the scientific gaps and challenges that remain to be addressed to realize this potential more broadly in drug discovery.

Innovation | | Nature Reviews Drug Discovery

From the winners

The intermolecular amination of C–H bonds is an enabling transformation for the synthesis of nitrogen-containing molecules; however, developing catalysts for this class of reactions is very challenging. Now, an iron-based enzyme for this reaction has been engineered, demonstrating that a protein can confer a difficult new function upon an otherwise unreactive base metal.

Article | | Nature Chemistry

A collaborative approach between experiment and simulation has revealed a single mutation in the F/G loop of the newly described nitrating cytochrome P450 TxtE that controls loop dynamics and, more surprisingly, the regioselectivity of the reaction. This mutation is present in a subset of homologous nitrating P450s that produce a previously unidentified biosynthetic intermediate, 5-nitro-L-tryptophan.

Article | | Nature Chemistry

A genetically encoded platform can produce chiral organoboranes in bacteria with high turnover, enantioselectivity and chemoselectivity, and can be tuned and configured through DNA manipulation.

Letter | | Nature

The inventor of humanized monoclonal antibodies and cofounder of Cambridge Antibody Technology, Greg Winter, muses on the future of antibody therapeutics and UK life science innovation.

Profile | | Nature Biotechnology


The authors describe methods for the directed evolution of artificial endonuclease and ligase enzymes by X-SELEX, from diverse repertoires of synthetic genetic polymers (XNAzymes). The protocol has been applied to four different XNA chemistries and three different reactions, and it is, in principle, applicable to many more.

Protocol | | Nature Protocols

An artificial aldolase has been optimized using an ultrahigh-throughput microfluidic screening assay. The evolved enzyme exhibits excellent stereoselectivity and broad substrate scope. Structural studies suggest that a Lys-Tyr-Asn-Tyr catalytic tetrad, which emerged during directed evolution, is responsible for the >109 rate enhancement achieved by this catalyst.

Article | | Nature Chemistry

A computationally designed enzyme that was evolved to accelerate a chemical reaction 6 × 108-fold approaches the exceptional efficiency of highly optimized natural enzymes and provides valuable lessons for the creation of more sophisticated artificial catalysts.

Letter | | Nature

An artificial metalloenzyme is compartmentalized and evolved in vivo for olefin metathesis—an archetypal organometallic reaction without equivalent in nature; the evolved metathase reveals broad substrate scope and compares favourably with commercial catalysts.

Letter | | Nature

Allosteric effectors have the ability to modulate protein-ligand interactions in a controlled fashion. Now a novel class of antibody-like affinity reagents, synthetic antigen binders or sABs, are generated in vitro that target either the open or closed form of maltose-binding protein. These sABs can be engineered to control ligand-binding affinities by modulating the transition between different conformations.

Article | | Nature Structural & Molecular Biology

Metals serve as unique structural and functional elements in biology, providing a wealth of reactivities not available in a wholly proteinogenic active site. The computational redesign and directed evolution of zinc enzymes to create a phosphotriesterase provides insights into how these elements can be utilized in the development of new functions.

Article | | Nature Chemical Biology

Reviews, News and Comments

Directed evolution uses laboratory-based evolution to enhance the properties of biomolecules, primarily to generate proteins with optimized or novel activities. This Review discusses the diverse range of technologies for the directed evolution of proteins, particularly methods for generating diversity in the gene library and approaches for screening and selecting for variants with desired properties. The relative strengths and limitations of these approaches are highlighted to guide readers to appropriate strategies.

Review Article | | Nature Reviews Genetics

How can we improve the design of monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) to treat cancer? In this Review, George J. Weiner discusses the characteristics of mAbs that can affect their efficacy, the current approaches that use mAbs in cancer treatment and the numerous ways to enhance the potential of these mAb-based techniques.

Review Article | | Nature Reviews Cancer

Therapeutic antibodies have already improved the lives of many people living with autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease. But there is still room for improvement. Here, the authors review how the current therapeutic antibodies work and how they might be enhanced to increase efficacy and extend their use.

Review Article | | Nature Reviews Immunology

More than 30 monoclonal antibody-based therapies have been approved for clinical use in the past 25 years. By looking at the strategies that have been used by pharmaceutical companies to develop these products, this Timeline article provides insight into the challenges that will be faced in developing the next generation of therapeutic antibodies.

Timeline | | Nature Reviews Immunology

Over the past ten years, protein engineering has established biocatalysis as a practical and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional forms of catalysis both in the laboratory and in industry.

Review Article | | Nature

Synthetic biology involves the creation of biological systems for new applications by modifying and reassembling biological components. Two views are presented here on the best way to engineer these components so that they reliably generate organisms with desired traits.

News & Views | | Nature