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US-Japanese team wins 2010 chemistry Nobel

An American and two Japanese scientists won the 2010 Nobel Prize for Chemistry on Wednesday for a tool that makes it easier to build complex chemicals, including those that could help in the fight against cancer.

Richard Heck, Ei-ichi Negishi and Akira Suzuki shared the prize for the development of “palladium-catalysed cross-coupling”, the Nobel Committee for Chemistry at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement.

“Palladium-catalysed cross-coupling is used in research worldwide, as well as in the commercial production of, for example, pharmaceuticals and molecules used in the electronics industry,” the committee said.

The tool allows scientists to build complex chemicals such as the carbon-based ones that are the basis of life.

Such chemicals include one that is naturally found in small quantities in a sea sponge, which scientists hope can be used to fight cancer cells.

Thanks to the scientists’ tool, researchers can now artificially produce this substance, called discodermolide.

“In order to create these complex chemicals, chemists need to be able to join carbon atoms together. However, carbon is stable and carbon atoms do not easily react with one another,” the committee said.

It said this meant scientists had to make carbon atoms more active, but this also produced more byproducts when more complex molecules were being created.

“Palladium-catalysed cross coupling solved that problem and provided chemists with a more precise and efficient tool to work with,” the committee added.

The prize of 10-million Swedish crowns ($1,5-million) was the third of this year’s Nobel prizes, following awards for medicine on Monday and for physics on Tuesday. – Reuters

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