Two innovative research teams win Royal Society of Chemistry’s prestigious Horizon Prizes

Two research teams at The University of Manchester have won a prestigious Royal Society of Chemistry Horizon Prize.

The Enzyme Discovery team won the Chemistry Biology Interface Horizon Prize: Rita and John Cornforth Award, while the Molecular Ratcheteers team won the Organic Chemistry Horizon Prize: Perkin Prize in Physical Organic Chemistry.

The Enzyme Discovery team was recognised for its work investigating enzymes to combat antimicrobial resistance in the developing world.

The team, based at the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology and the Department of Chemistry at The University of Manchester, with collaborators from GlaxoSmithKline, won the accolade for successfully discovering new enzymes for sustainable synthesis.

Their findings could lead to more affordable medicines, antibiotics that are more resistant to antimicrobial resistance, and even treat previously untreated diseases.

Professor Jason Micklefield from the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology and the Department of Chemistry at The University of Manchester, said: “Our team is acutely aware of the importance of finding more sustainable and efficient routes to new and improved antimicrobials and other important therapeutic agents that are urgently required to combat antimicrobial resistance, treat diseases and tackle future pandemics.

“Our research has allowed us to discover and engineer enzymes and pathways for sustainable synthesis, and we look forward to the future applications of our work in providing more parts of the world with increased access to essential medicines and more sustainable routes to commonly used products.”

If adopted in industry, the Enzyme Discovery team’s work could lead to more affordable products, including medicines, which could be made more widely available to help combat antimicrobial resistance and other neglected diseases in the developing world. Their work also has the potential to help reduce other problems such as chemical waste.

The Molecular Ratcheteers team was recognised for its work in nanotechnology, advancing the building blocks for everything from medicine delivery to information processing.

Based at the University of Manchester, with support from the University of Maine, the University of Luxembourg and East China Normal University, the Molecular Ratcheteers won the accolade for inventing engineering concepts that will help unlock the potential of the nanoworld.

The work leads to a variety of real-life applications like the creation of new nanomachines such as molecular motors, pumps and switches, that could make improvements in everything from the delivery of medicines to information processing.

The group – which brought together minds with specialities in areas such as the physics of information and molecular biology – join a prestigious list of past winners in the RSC’s prize portfolio, 60 of whom have gone on to win Nobel Prizes for their work, including 2022 laureate Carolyn Bertozzi and 2019 laureate, John B Goodenough.

Professor Dave Leigh from the Molecular Ratcheteers team at The University of Manchester, said: “It’s been fantastic to be part of such a talented team on the Molecular Ratcheteers project, and we’re proud to have developed concepts that could truly drive forward engineering in the nanoworld.”

Miniaturisation has driven advances in technology through the ages. Early computers filled entire rooms and consumed vast amounts of energy yet had far less computing power than the tiny energy-frugal chips in today’s smartphones.

Making machinery smaller reduces power requirements, curtails the amounts of materials needed, cuts waste, facilitates recycling and produces faster operating systems. In doing so it advances technological progress while addressing the environmental and sustainability needs of society.

Both research teams will also receive a trophy and a professionally produced video to celebrate the work.

Dr Helen Pain, Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: “The Horizon Prizes recognise brilliant teams and collaborations who are opening new directions and possibilities in their field, by combining their diversity of thought, experience and skills, to deliver scientific developments for the benefit of all of us.

“The work of the Enzyme Discovery team is a fantastic example of why we celebrate great science; not only because of how they have expanded our understanding of the world around us, but also because of the incredible contribution they make to society as a whole. We are very proud to recognise their work.”

The Royal Society of Chemistry’s prizes have recognised excellence in the chemical sciences for more than 150 years. In 2019, the organisation announced the biggest overhaul of this portfolio in its history, designed to better reflect modern scientific work and culture.

The Horizon Prizes celebrate the most exciting, contemporary chemical science at the cutting edge of research and innovation.

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