2009 Chemistry Prize Highlights Biochemical Design
In the mid-19th century Alfred Nobel discovered that he could improve the stability of nitroglycerin by mixing it with diatomaceous earth, making it useful for mining and other engineering uses. In 1867, Nobel patented his invention called Nobel’s Safety Powder, later redubbed dynamite. This product and others like it helped Nobel amass a sizable fortune, but his greatest money-making venture was his sales of armaments.
Known as the “Merchant of Death,” Nobel was condemned publicly for accumulating wealth by developing faster ways to kill as many people as possible. In the face of this criticism, he decided that upon his death his estate should be used to award people who made the greatest and most beneficial contributions in medicine, chemistry, physics, literature, and the promotion of peace.
Frequently, the significance of Nobel Prize-winning work extends beyond the good it offers humanity. It often times stands as powerful evidence for intelligent design. This was true for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry awarded in 2004. And it is also true for this year’s award in the same category.
The 2009 prize was awarded to three scientists who figured out the atom-by-atom map of the ribosome, an important subcellular particle that serves as the site for protein synthesis. Understanding the ribosome’s structure provides fundamental insight into a key biochemical process and also leads to biomedical applications. As a case in point, many antibiotics interact with ribosomes, disrupting protein production. Detailed knowledge about the ribosome’s architecture provides better understanding of how antibiotics work and how to go about designing novel antimicrobial agents.
As I discussed in a recent episode of Science News Flash, this extensive new understanding of ribosomes also reveals compelling evidence for the argument that life stems from the work of a Creator. For example, this work highlights the machine-like character of the ribosome and its highly precise and optimized structure. I also recently described some other features of the ribosome that point to design in a series of articles. (Go here, here, and here to read them.)
If there were a prize awarded for research that (inadvertently) added to the case for intelligent design, this year’s award winners in chemistry would be most worthy of consideration.