Nobel Prize for three chemists who made molecules ‘click’

Nobel Prize for three chemists who made molecules ‘click’
Screens shows winners Carolyn R. Bertozzi (U.S), Morten Meldal (Denmark) and K. Barry Sharpless (U.S.) of the 2022 Nobel Prize in Chemistry during a news conference at The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, Sweden, October 5, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 06 October 2022

Nobel Prize for three chemists who made molecules ‘click’

Nobel Prize for three chemists who made molecules ‘click’

STOCKHOLM: Three scientists were jointly awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in chemistry on Wednesday for developing a way of “snapping molecules together” that can be used to explore cells, map DNA and design drugs that can target diseases such as cancer more precisely.
Americans Carolyn R. Bertozzi and K. Barry Sharpless, and Danish scientist Morten Meldal were cited for their work on click chemistry that works “sort of like molecular Lego.”
“It’s all about snapping molecules together,” said Johan Aqvist, a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences that announced the winners at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.
Sharpless, 81, who previously won a Nobel in 2001 and is now the fifth person to receive the prize twice, first proposed the idea of connecting molecules using chemical “buckles” around the turn of the millennium, Aqvist said.
“The problem was to find good chemical buckles,” he said. “They have to react with each other easily and specifically.”
Meldal, 68, based at the University of Copenhagen, and Sharpless, who is affiliated with Scripps Research in California, independently found the first such candidates that would easily snap together with each other but not with other molecules, leading to applications in the manufacture of medicines and polymers.
Bertozzi, 55, who is based at Stanford University “took click chemistry to a new level,” the Nobel panel said, by finding a way to make the process work inside living organisms without disrupting them.
The goal is “doing chemistry inside human patients to make sure that drugs go to the right place and stay away from the wrong place,” she said at a news conference following the announcement.

The award was a shock, she said. “I’m still not entirely positive that it’s real, but it’s getting realer by the minute.”
Later, speaking to The Associated Press by Zoom, Bertozzi said one of the first people she called after being awakened by the call around 2 a.m. was her father, William Bertozzi, a retired physicist and night owl, who was still awake watching TV.
“Dad, turn down the TV, I have something to tell you,” she said she told him. After she assured him nothing was wrong, he guessed the news. “You won it, didn’t you?”
One of three daughters, Bertozzi said she was “fortunate because I grew up with parents that were very supportive, evangelical almost, about having their girls participate in the sciences.”
Bertozzi, who is paid by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which also supports The Associated Press’ Health and Science Department, said she was grateful for the energy and enthusiasm that a Nobel Prize win will inject into the field.
Meldal said he received the call from the Nobel panel about half an hour before the public announcement. “They ... told me not to tell anyone,” he told the AP, adding that he just sat in his office, shaking a bit.
Meldal started out as an engineer, “but I wanted to understand the world so I thought chemistry would give me the solutions.”
Jon Lorsch, director of the US National Institute of General Medical Sciences, which supports the work of Bertozzi and Sharpless, described click chemistry as “sort of like molecular Lego — you have a group on one molecule that specifically attaches to a group on another molecule,” like Lego clicking together.
“That makes it possible to attach molecules in very specific pre-defined ways,” he said, and gives scientists a very precise tool to build complex new molecules for use in drugs, synthetic materials and other uses.
However, the first iteration of click chemistry could not be used with living cells. “The original click chemistry used copper as a catalyst to join molecules,” Lorsch said. “But the trouble is that copper is toxic to most living systems at higher concentrations.”
Bertozzi then devised a way to jumpstart the reactions without copper or other toxic solvents — broadening the applications to human and animal tissues.
“Being able to work without dangerous solvents, opened many new doors — it enabled scientists to work on new types of reactions that actually take place within the human body,” said Angela Wilson, president of the American Chemical Society.
That has allowed scientists to attach dyes to cancer cells to track their movements and analyze how they differ from healthy tissue.
Wilson believes the advances of this year’s Nobel laureates “will allow more individualized medicine in the future because we can really track things much better within the human body.”
Sharpless credited his passion for looking for the impossible and not accepting limits for helping him stumble upon his discoveries.
“I’m just really lucky to have a photographic memory and love the periodic table,” he told a virtual news conference from his home in the San Diego suburb of La Jolla. “Prizes aren’t what I’m doing science for. ... I have to do it. It’s kind of a compulsion,”
M.G. Finn, a chemist now at Georgia Tech who collaborated with Sharpless on his Nobel-winning work, said click chemistry’s use in biology and drug development was still “at its infancy,” with more exciting discoveries to come.
Meldal agreed.
It’s “very much an opportunity ... when you get this kind of award to argue for our young people to take chemistry as a discipline,” he said at a news conference in Copenhagen. “Chemistry is the solution to many of our challenges.”
Last year’s prize was awarded to scientists Benjamin List and David W.C. MacMillan for finding an environmentally cleaner way to build molecules that the Nobel panel said is “already benefiting humankind greatly.”
A week of Nobel Prize announcements kicked off Monday with Swedish scientist Svante Paabo receiving the award in medicine for unlocking secrets of Neanderthal DNA that provided key insights into our immune system.
Three scientists won the prize in physics Tuesday. Frenchman Alain Aspect, American John F. Clauser and Austrian Anton Zeilinger showed that tiny particles can retain a connection with each other even when separated, a phenomenon that can be used for specialized computing and to encrypt information.
The awards continue with literature on Thursday. The 2022 Nobel Peace Prize will be announced Friday and the economics award on Monday.
The prizes carry a cash award of 10 million Swedish kronor (nearly $900,000) and will be handed out on Dec. 10. The money comes from a bequest left by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, in 1895.
 


Chinese cities relax testing rules as zero COVID-19 policy eases

Chinese cities relax testing rules as zero COVID-19 policy eases
Updated 05 December 2022

Chinese cities relax testing rules as zero COVID-19 policy eases

Chinese cities relax testing rules as zero COVID-19 policy eases
  • Local authorities have begun a slow rollback of the restrictions that have governed daily life for years
  • Chinese authorities on Monday reported 29,724 new domestic COVID-19 cases

BEIJING: Businesses reopened and testing requirements were relaxed in Beijing and other Chinese cities on Monday as the country tentatively eases out of a strict zero COVID-19 policy that sparked nationwide protests.
Local authorities across China have begun a slow rollback of the restrictions that have governed daily life for years, encouraged by the central government’s orders for a new approach to fighting the coronavirus.
In the capital Beijing, where many businesses have fully reopened, commuters from Monday were no longer required to show a negative virus test taken within 48 hours to use public transport.
Financial hub Shanghai — which underwent a brutal two-month lockdown this year — was under the same rules, with residents able to enter outdoor venues such as parks and tourist attractions without a recent test.
Neighboring Hangzhou went a step further, ending regular mass testing for its 10 million people, except for those living in or visiting nursing homes, schools and kindergartens.
In the northwestern city of Urumqi, where a fire that killed 10 people became the catalyst for the recent anti-lockdown protests, supermarkets, hotels, restaurants and ski resorts reopened on Monday.
The city of more than four million in the far-western Xinjiang region endured one of China’s longest lockdowns, with some areas shut from August until November.
Authorities in Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first detected in late 2019, and Shandong scrapped the testing requirement for public transport on Sunday.
And Zhengzhou — home to the world’s largest iPhone factory — on Sunday said people will be allowed to enter public places, take public transport and enter their residential compounds without a 48-hour negative test result.
The World Health Organization has cheered China’s loosening of its zero COVID-19 policy, which came after hundreds took to the streets across the country to call for greater political freedoms and an end to lockdowns.
While some COVID-19 rules have been relaxed, China’s vast security apparatus has moved swiftly to smother further rallies, boosting online censorship and surveillance of the population.
And as officials have dismantled testing facilities, long queues have appeared around those that remain, forcing residents to wait in cold temperatures to get tests that remain obligatory across much of China.
“Students can’t go to school without a 24-hour negative test,” wrote a user on China’s Twitter-like Weibo.
“What’s the point in closing testing booths before dropping the need to show test results completely?” another asked.
Chinese authorities on Monday reported 29,724 new domestic COVID-19 cases.


Growth in arms trade stunted by supply issues: report

Growth in arms trade stunted by supply issues: report
Updated 05 December 2022

Growth in arms trade stunted by supply issues: report

Growth in arms trade stunted by supply issues: report
  • The growth was severely impacted by widespread supply chain issues
  • Companies in the US continue to dominate global arms production

STOCKHOLM: Sales of arms and military services grew in 2021, researchers said Monday, but were limited by worldwide supply issues related to the pandemic, with the war in Ukraine increasing demand while worsening supply difficulties.
The top 100 arms companies sold weapons and related services totalling $592 billion in 2021, 1.9-percent more than the year before, said the latest report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
However the growth was severely impacted by widespread supply chain issues.
“The lasting impact of the pandemic is really starting to show in arms companies,” Nan Tian, a senior researcher at SIPRI, told AFP.
Disruptions from both labor shortages and difficulties in sourcing raw materials were “slowing down the companies’ ability to produce weapons systems and deliver them on time.
“So what we see really is a potentially slower increase to what many would have expected in arms sales in 2021,” Tian said.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is also expected to worsen supply chain issues, in part “because Russia is a major supplier of raw materials used in arms production,” said the report’s authors.
But the war has at the same time increased demand.
“Definitely demand will increase in the coming years,” Tian said.
By how much was at the same time harder to gauge, Tian said pointing to two factors that would impact demand.
Firstly, countries that have sent weapons to Ukraine to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars will be looking to replenish stockpiles.
Secondly, the worsening security environment means “countries are looking to procure more weapons.”
With the supply crunch expected to worsen, it could hamper these efforts, the authors noted.
Companies in the US continue to dominate global arms production, accounting for over half, $299 billion, of global sales and 40 of the top companies.
At the same time, the region was the only one to see a drop in sales: 0.9 percent down on the 2020 figures.
Among the top five companies — Lockheed Martin, Raytheon Technologies, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics — only Raytheon recorded an increase in sales.
Meanwhile, sales from the eight largest Chinese arms companies rose 6.3 percent to $109 billion in 2021.
European companies took 27 of the spots on the top 100, with combined sales of $123 billion, up 4.2 percent compared to 2020.
The report also noted a trend of private equity firms buying up arms companies, something the authors said had become increasingly apparent over the last three or four years.
This trend threatens to make the arms industry more opaque and therefore harder to track, Tian said, “because private equity firms will buy these companies and then essentially not produce any more financial records.”


UK political instability delays British-Moroccan energy project: Report

UK political instability delays British-Moroccan energy project: Report
Updated 05 December 2022

UK political instability delays British-Moroccan energy project: Report

UK political instability delays British-Moroccan energy project: Report
  • Xlinks venture will provide Britain with renewable energy via cable through Sahara
  • Morocco is established market leader in wind, solar, hydroelectric power industry

LONDON: Political turmoil in London has delayed an ambitious joint UK-Morocco plan to provide Britain with energy via a cable through the Sahara desert by “at least a year,” The Observer reported on Sunday.
The £18 billion ($22 billion) Xlinks venture, expected to be operational in 2027, would supply the UK with 8 percent of its energy needs from huge wind and solar farms in the desert through a 3,800 km cable, powering as many as 7 million homes by 2030.
Morocco is an established market leader in the wind, solar and hydroelectric power industry, and is second only to Egypt for solar intensity, a measure of generation power.
But the link-up has been delayed until at least late 2023, The Observer reported. Sir Dave Lewis, executive chair of the project, said recent political turmoil in Britain — which has seen three prime ministers come to power in less than six months — has slowed down its progress.
“We spent a long time with the then-business secretary (Kwasi Kwarteng) who said: ‘We like it a lot but it needs to go through Treasury.’ There was a review with Treasury, Cabinet Office and the business department, which was very positive,” Lewis told The Observer.
“Then we came back to them to start the detail and the political world exploded and, as a result, everything stopped. And everybody has changed, so it’s sort of like you’re starting again,” he added.
“Time is important for the UK to meet its net zero ambitions, to secure energy supplies and to reduce bills. We have lost a year.”
The cable transporting the power would run along the Moroccan coastline, then along Portugal, northern Spain and western France before looping around the Scilly Isles Scilly and finishing in the English county of Devon, where Xlinks has already approved 1.8 gigawatt connections.


Philippines to join hands with Saudi Arabia in tourism development 

Philippines to join hands with Saudi Arabia in tourism development 
Updated 04 December 2022

Philippines to join hands with Saudi Arabia in tourism development 

Philippines to join hands with Saudi Arabia in tourism development 
  • Kingdom set to help Philippines develop halal tourism 
  • Manila sees ‘great potential’ in attracting more Saudi tourists 

MANILA: The Philippine government said on Sunday it is going to work closely with Saudi Arabia in developing the tourism industry in both countries. 

More than 9,400 Saudi tourists have visited the Southeast Asian country since it reopened to fully vaccinated international travelers in February. Before the pandemic, Saudi Arabia was the top Middle Eastern source of arrivals, according to data from the Philippine Department of Tourism. 

“The two countries agreed on formalizing their partnership with Saudi Arabia,” the tourism department said in a statement on Sunday. 

The Kingdom will support the Philippines with Arabic-speaking tour guides, increasing direct flights and developing halal tourism, while the Philippines will “provide hospitality and human capital development to the Kingdom’s tourism frontline.” 

The agreement follows Philippine Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco’s meeting with her Saudi counterpart Haifa Al-Saud in Riyadh last month. 

“Saudi Arabia actually ranks No. 1 for our Middle East source market. We see great potential in ushering in more arrivals into the Philippines,” Frasco said, as quoted in the statement. 

She added that the relationship is mutual, as there are over 800,000 Filipinos living in Saudi Arabia. 

“Our affection for each other is long-standing, and I am very interested in furthering this relationship by formalizing an agreement specifically focused on tourism development,” she said. 

The Philippines, known for its white sand beaches and famous diving spots, is dependent on tourism. In 2019, the sector generated around $44 billion and made up nearly 13 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority. 

Most tourism destinations in the country were forced to shut down when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, dealing a major blow to the industry. Foreign arrivals slumped by 82 percent, while revenues from tourism plummeted to $17 billion. 

Tourism recovery efforts yielded results once several COVID-19 restrictions were lifted this year. 

By Nov. 14, official data showed nearly 1.5 million foreign tourists had visited the Philippines. 


Iraqi in UK who saved baby niece via illegal entry granted leave to remain

Photo: (Pexels/Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas)
Photo: (Pexels/Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas)
Updated 05 December 2022

Iraqi in UK who saved baby niece via illegal entry granted leave to remain

Photo: (Pexels/Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas)
  • Najat Ibrahim Ismail, 35, rescued 7-month-old Rwen Tahsin Ibrahim from France after burn incident

LONDON: An Iraqi man who saved his baby niece by bringing her to the UK illegally has been granted leave to remain following years of legal attempts by the Home Office to deport him, The Guardian reported.

Najat Ibrahim Ismail, who arrived in Britain in 2004, saved his niece, Rwen Tahsin Ibrahim, then only 7 months old, after she had sustained significant burn injuries in a French refugee camp.

Her parents had fled Iraq following the expansion of Daesh and in 2016 had traveled to France.

Ismail, 35, heard the news of his relative’s injuries and traveled to Dunkirk, where he drove his niece back to Britain illegally in a bid to give her access to urgent medical care.

In 2017, he was prosecuted for assisting illegal entry into the UK.

As a result, the UK Home Office pursued his deportation three times, but to no avail.

Now the 35-year-old, who is married to a British woman and has three children, has been granted leave to remain following years of legal campaigning by his solicitor.

His niece — whose family has also been given leave to remain — has since made a full recovery following the 2016 incident and is now in school.

Ismail said: “For the first time I can sleep well. I’m the happiest person in the world and I can’t stop smiling.

“I can’t thank my solicitor enough. She saved my life.”

Though a judge condemned Ismail’s actions in assisting the illegal entry, they said: “I do accept that you were not a person who was trafficking for gain. These were family members you decided to assist.”

Hannah Baynes, Ismail’s solicitor, said: “We are very pleased that Najat will be allowed to remain in the UK after so many years of uncertainty.

“The judge acknowledged that there was a risk of Najat’s mental health deteriorating if he was forced to live separately from his family in Iraq, where he has a well-founded fear of persecution.”