Auburn veterinary professors associated with 2018 Nobel Prize in chemistry

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A University of Missouri scientist received the 2018 Nobel Prize in chemistry Oct. 3, and the recognized technology that he developed has ties and applications among former colleagues and other researchers in Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

George P. Smith, the MU Curators Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biological Science at the University of Missouri, is one in a trio of researchers awarded the prize. He won the Nobel for his development of a method called phage display, in which a virus that infects bacteria can be used to evolve new proteins.

“I’m getting an honor that was earned by a whole bunch of other people,” Smith said in a follow-up news interview. One of those people was Valery Petrenko, a professor in the Department of Pathobiology in Auburn’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and a former colleague of Smith’s.

“I am very excited to learn that George Smith received the highest recognition of his scientific achievements,” Petrenko said. “I am happy and honored that I worked with George closely for several years at the University of Missouri at Columbia, and that I could contribute to development and applications of his revolutionary concept of phage display during my scientific career at Auburn.”

“Phage display is an extremely powerful technique that allows us to identify ways to target delivery of genes to cells,” said Bruce Smith, also a professor in the Department of Pathobiology at the college and director of the Auburn University Research Initiative in Cancer, or AURIC. “We have used it in our laboratory to identify short protein sequences that can target muscles to treat muscular dystrophy, and tumor cells to treat cancer.”

Both Patrenko and Bruce Smith, along with another Auburn veterinary colleague, Tatiana Samoylova, a research professor with the Scott-Ritchey Research Center at the college, use or have used the phage technology to pursue novel binding peptides in their cancer research.

"Dr. George Smith’s discovery of this approach allows us to find new biological molecules that bind to other molecules without having to know anything about either the target or binding molecules,” Bruce Smith said. “Even more excitingly, the molecules that are found by this technology can be outside of normal biological space. That is, they can be protein sequences that are not found anywhere in living things, but by the nature of their chemistry, can interact with living things."

In addition to George Smith, the 2018 Nobel Prize in chemistry also was awarded to one other researcher in the United States and one in Britain.

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