Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2022 for simpler and more functional processes

The 2022 Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to researchers K. Barry Sharpless from the Scripps Research Institute (USA); Morten Meldal from the University of Copenhagen (Denmark) and Carolyn R. Bertozzi from Stanford University (USA) “for the development of ‘click chemistry’ and bioorthogonal chemistry”, as announced today by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

This year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry recognizes work that simplifies difficult processes. Sharpless and Meldal laid the groundwork for a functional form of chemistry – the so-called chemical click— where molecular building blocks come together quickly and efficiently. In turn, Carolyn Bertozzi took this chemistry to a new dimension and began using it in living organisms.

Barry Sharpless, Morten Meldal and Carolyn R. Bertozzi receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry “for the development of ‘click chemistry’ and bioorthogonal chemistry”, tools that simplify difficult processes

Chemists have long struggled to build ever more complicated molecules. In pharmaceutical research, for example, this often means artificially recreating those found in nature, such as those with medicinal properties. The result is many molecular constructs relevant, but their production is often time-consuming and very expensive.

“This year’s Chemistry Award is about not overcomplicating things, but about working with what is easy and simple. Functional molecules can be built even following a simple path,” he says. Johan AqvistChairman of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.

A simpler and more functional ‘click chemistry’ is the one used by this year’s Nobel Prize winners in Chemistry. / © Johan Jarnestad/The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

This is the second Nobel Prize in Chemistry received by Barry Sharpless, who had already received another in 2001.

Karl Barry Sharpless — who has already received another Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2001 — was the one who started the ‘rolling ball’. Around the year 2000, he coined the concept of click chemistry as a simple and reliable form of chemistry, in which reactions occur quickly and unwanted by-products are avoided.

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The crown jewel of click chemistry

Shortly after, he and Morten Meldal — independently of each other — presented what is now the crown jewel of click chemistry: the copper catalyzed cycloaddition of azides to alkali. This is an elegant and efficient chemical reaction that has become very widespread in recent years.

A click reaction that changed chemistry: the copper-catalyzed cycloaddition of azides to alkali. / Nobel Prize

Among many other uses, it is used in the development of pharmaceuticals, in DNA mapping and in the creation of new materials associated with these processes.

Bioorthogonal click chemistry is used around the world to explore cells and track biological processes, as well as in the development of new anticancer drugs.

Carolyn Bertozzi has taken this click chemistry to a new level. To map important but highly elusive biomolecules on the surface of cells, glycansdeveloped reactions of this type that work within living organisms.

specifically, bioorthogonal reactions, which occur without disturbing the normal chemistry of the cell. They are now used around the world to scan cells and to track biological processes. Thanks to these reactions, it was possible to improve the specificity of the cancer drugs, that are now being tested in clinical trials.

Click chemistry and bioorthogonal reactions brought chemistry into the age of functionalism. This is bringing greater benefits to humanity, according to the Nobel committee.

Bioorthogonal chemistry helps to investigate the cell. / Nobel Prize

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