The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) would like to congratulate Dr. Frances H. Arnold on being named winner of the 2016 Millennium Technology Prize.

Instituted by the Technology Academy Finland and awarded every two years, the Millennium Technology Prize celebrates an outstanding inventor who uses technology to enhance quality of life and promote sustainable development. Dr. Arnold is one of only twelve award recipients since the award’s inception. The NSF has supported Dr. Arnold’s work through a partnership between the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences’ Systems and Synthetic Biology program, the Division of Chemistry’s Chemistry of Life Processes program, the Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems’ Biocatalysis program, and Research at the Interface of the Biological, Mathematical, and Physical Sciences (BioMaPS). Dr. Arnold was selected for this distinguished honor by an international committee who recognized the far reaching impact of her pioneering approach called ‘directed evolution.’

Dr. Frances H. Arnold notes this approach “can be used to improve any enzyme.” An enzyme is a protein that catalyzes a biochemical reaction. In the first step of the process, a scientist chooses an enzyme to target and a trait or ability to improve upon or develop within the enzyme. Next, the scientist introduces changes in the gene (DNA) that encodes the targeted enzyme, producing thousands of altered versions of the enzyme, each with its own unique characteristics. Then, screening is conducted to identify one or more of these altered enzymes that contain the desired improvement. Finally, recombination of beneficial mutations and/or additional rounds of the process very rapidly results in a vastly improved enzyme. Dr. Arnold states, “We can do what nature takes millions of years to do in a matter of weeks.”

Since its development, this method has enabled scientists to revolutionize the quality and functionality of enzymes used in the manufacturing of a multitude of products – from medicine to laundry detergent to biofuels. For example, Dr. Arnold and her research team are using this approach to “engineer enzymes capable of producing fuels and chemicals from renewable resources.”

Dr. Arnold is the Director of the Donna and Benjamin M. Rosen Bioengineering Center and the Dick and Barbara Dickinson Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering, and Biochemistry at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). She is also the recipient of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation (2011), the first female elected to all three branches of the National Academies – the National Academy of Engineering (2000), the Institute of Medicine (2004), and the National Academy of Sciences (2008) – and the first female recipient of the Millennium Technology Prize. She notes, “I certainly hope that young women can see themselves in my position someday. I hope that my getting this prize will highlight the fact that yes, women can do this, they can do it well, and that they can make a contribution to the world and be recognized for it. I hope that women will see that one can have a rewarding career in science and technology.”

Please join MCB in congratulating Dr. Frances H. Arnold as we celebrate her outstanding, well-deserved recognition of being awarded the 2016 Millennium Technology Prize.

This work is partially funded by the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, Award #MCB-1513007.

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