Three scientists won the Wolff Chemistry Award 2022
Recently, the Wolf Foundation published a list of Wolf Chemistry Award winners in 2022, with honors from Professor Bonnie L. Bassler at Princeton University, Professor Carolyn R. Bertozzi at Stanford University, and Professor Benjamin F. Cravatt III at the Scripps Institute. The press release points out that these scientists have made pioneering contributions to understanding the chemistry behind cellular communication, as well as inventing chemical methods for studying the role of carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins in such biological processes.
Professor Bassler is the director of the Department of Molecular Biology at Princeton University. When she was an undergraduate student in biochemistry, she was scheduled to study enzymes from bacteria. At that time, she had little interest in this project because she felt that bacteria were the simplest organisms. But soon, she found that this seemingly simple life was actually quite complex internally. So, after her PhD, she began to focus on how bacteria communicate chemically.
Specifically, Professor Bassler studied a phenomenon called quorum sensing, which involves the production, release, and detection of a series of chemical signals. These signals allow bacterial communities to regulate gene expression, thereby regulating their behavior at the population level. Understanding quorum sensing not only has important applications in microbiology, but also can assist in understanding the development of higher organisms.
Professor Bassler's study shows that bacteria use a variety of 'languages' for communication. This allows us to better understand the communication of bacteria within and between species, also allows us to understand how bacteria form cooperation at the population level, and also assists scientists in designing based on the signaling pathways behind it for the control of quorum sensing. Therapies that can interfere with quorum sensing, on the other hand, are expected to fight infections with drug-resistant bacteria. The Wolff Chemical Award press release points out that her work has a wide range of applications for the development of new antimicrobial therapies, or the next generation of antibiotics.
Professor Bertozzi is a chemist at Stanford University known for developing innovative technologies for biological discovery and therapy development. Professor Bertozzi's father, who taught physics at MIT, also encouraged her to study the tools she used in her class, which allowed her to build enthusiasm for science from an early age.
Professor Bertozzi's main research interests are related to cell membranes. Cell membranes play an important role in cells, protecting them from the external environment. However, in addition to its protective effects, cell membranes are also associated with complex intracellular signaling, all of which are mediated by glycoproteins and glycosphingolipids on the cell surface. Professor Bertozzi opened up the field of bioorthogonal chemistry, allowing researchers to modify molecules in living systems by chemical methods without interfering with the original biochemical pathway. It was using bioorthogonal chemistry that she made groundbreaking discoveries in understanding the function of the glycocalyx. These glycocalyces are present on almost every cell and are modified by massive glycosylation, which is mediated by cell-cell binding.
The press release states that her pioneering work assisted the process of basic drug discovery associated with diseases such as cancer, inflammation, and bacterial infections. Perhaps the most well-known of these industries is protein degradation technology called lysosome-targeted chimeras (LYTACs)—which can degrade bound cell membranes, or targets located extracellularly.
Professor Cravatt, a professor in the Department of Chemistry at the Scripps Research Institute, focuses on understanding protein function in human physiological and pathological processes and using the resulting knowledge to discover innovative therapeutic targets, as well as new drugs for the treatment of diseases.
His work has largely linked chemistry to biology. Professor Cravatt's group has developed and applied a range of techniques for discovering relevant biochemical pathways in mammalian biology and disease. He also pioneered a method for identifying protein types based on protein activity. These methods have spawned a series of tools for understanding the molecular, cellular, and physiological functions of enzymes.
The Wolf Prize press release points out that Professor Cravatt's work on the endocannabinoid system has dramatically changed the landscape of proteomic analysis. He showed that innovative chemical methods can be used for extensive and in-depth analysis to directly explore protein function in biological systems.
At the same time, Professor Cravatt has also pioneered the technique known as 'activity-based protein analysis' (ABPP), which uses chemical probes to directly analyze the function of enzymes. For example, researchers can attach fluorescent tags to enzymes with specific chemical properties and suddenly see the location of all active enzymes in the cell to determine the target of the drug directly in the in vivo system. His work has linked the action of many enzymes to cancer and neurological diseases.
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