US biochemist wins award for rewriting DNA to mimic evolution

US biochemical engineer Frances Arnold (R) receives her Millennium Technology Prize 2016 from Finnish President Sauli Niinisto i
US biochemical engineer Frances Arnold (R) receives her Millennium Technology Prize 2016 from Finnish President Sauli Niinisto in Helsinki, on May 24, 2016

US biochemical engineer Frances Arnold on Tuesday won a million-euro technology prize in Finland for her work on "directed evolution", a method of rewriting DNA to improve medicines and develop green fuels.

"Frances Arnold receives the 2016 Millennium Technology Prize in recognition of her discoveries that launched the field of 'directed evolution', which mimics natural evolution to create new and better proteins in the laboratory," the Technology Academy Finland, which awards the prize at two-year intervals, said in a statement.

Arnold, 59, who is a professor of chemical engineering at California Institute of Technology, said her work made it possible to "solve human problems", such as replacing toxic chemicals like fossil fuels.

Her method of creating new proteins with desired properties is being used to convert renewable resources like sugar cane into biofuels and to improve everyday products such as laundry and dishwashing detergents to enhance their performance in cold temperatures.

"The microbes convert plants to fuels so the sugar that's in the plant is the feedstock. Instead of pumping oil out of the ground for making gasoline, now we can use sunlight stored in plants," she explained to AFP ahead of the ceremony.

Other practical applications include creams, fragrances and industrial solvents or improving the drug industry's previously wasteful chemical processes to make medication such as Januvia, used by millions of people to treat diabetes.

The prize—worth one million euros ($1.12 million)—was handed to Arnold by Finnish President Sauli Niinisto at the University of Helsinki.

"This is a fabulous recognition and I'm very grateful for it," she said.

Arnold, who has survived breast cancer and is also a single mother to three sons, said she would spend part of the prize money on her kids' university education.

Arnold is the first woman to win the prize, which was founded in 2004. It aims to be a technology equivalent of the Nobel Prizes for the sciences, which have been criticised by some for focusing too much on traditional, decades-old scientific research.

In 2012, US President Barack Obama awarded Arnold the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, established by the US Congress in 1980.

The Finnish Millennium Technology Prize singles out innovations that have practical applications and which "enhance the quality of people's lives."

Previous laureates include the creator of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Linux open source operating system creator Linus Torvalds and ethical stem cell pioneer Shinya Yamanaka.

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© 2016 AFP

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May 24, 2016
Notice how she plans to use her money for education of her kids? That is because we do not have free education here, but everything is made to profit Big Money and the already-rich.

May 24, 2016
Notice how you turn a fantastic recognition of achievement into a rant about the rich?
That's what makes you a little bitch.

May 24, 2016
Good for her. And good for Finland for recognizing her important work.

Now, let's talk about using evolution to create new technology. Gee, maybe it works after all no matter what the super magic sky daddy supposedly said to stone age sheep herders in a babble. Cretinists who think their Babble trumps reality should stop taking their diabetes medicine if they don't believe in it, or shut up. But I bet they won't.

May 26, 2016
Notice how you could have just ignored his comment? What the guy said was right, even though perhaps out of place, or off topic to really discuss on here. What an interesting development none the less and congrats to Arnold for her efforts.

May 29, 2016
Like most things these days that tech has touched, this's a "customizable, sped-up" evolution.

@Da Schneib: Haven't you noticed how an intelligent, willing person has put a lot of time and effort toward the CREATION of the new DNA, and it–and the applications that will come out of it–didn't just spring into existence? (While this may not answer: "But who created the first creator?!"–which is, honestly, a question most people stop asking after stepping out of childhood–one constant that human experience proved time and again is that there's always–always!–a creator.)

Strange how no one has commented on how you turn a fantastic recognition of achievement into a rant about Creationists and the Bible (à la Estevan57 vs. gkam).

I just hope more people would be appreciative of ALL creators' achievements, and recognize the true implications of discoveries for what they're, the way Finland did to Frances Arnold.

Congrats to her, congrats to humanity.

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