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Nobel prizewinners took chemistry from pipettes to programming

By Catherine Whitby, University of South Australia

The 2013 Nobel Prize for Chemistry has been awarded for research that has revolutionised our understanding of how enzymes control the chemistry in our bodies.

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The 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been jointly awarded to Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel for developing foundation computer software that chemists today use to investigate how biological molecules work.

And while their prizewinning work was not stereotypically laboratory-based, they (among other things) revolutionised our understanding of how enzymes control the chemistry in our bodies.

The human body is one big chemical factory. The salivary glands in our mouths release digestive enzymes that help break down food into small molecules.

In the stomach and small intestine, carbohydrates, fats and proteins in our food are broken down into nutrients such as sugars, amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, and absorbed into the bloodstream for energy, or as building blocks for new tissue.

Until the 1970s, chemical processes such as digestion were incredibly hard to follow using the tools of classical chemistry.

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The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.