The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on Wednesday awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2018 to Frances H Arnold, George P Smith and Sir Gregory P Winter. Arnold will receive one half of the prize for the directed evolution of enzymes while Smith and Winter will receive the other half together “for the phage display of peptides and antibodies”.

“This year’s Chemistry Laureates have taken control of evolution and used the same principles – genetic change and selection – to develop proteins that solve humankind’s chemical problems,” according to Royal Swedish Academy for Sciences. “The methods that the Nobel Prize laureates have developed are now being internationally developed to promote a greener chemicals industry, produce new materials, manufacture sustainable biofuels, mitigate disease and save lives.”

Arnold is an American scientist from the California Institute of Technology. She conducted the first directed evolution of enzymes. “Enzymes produced through directed evolution are used to manufacture everything from biofuels to pharmaceuticals,” the Academy said. Arnold is only the fifth woman to be awarded the prize for Chemistry.

Smith, also an American, developed a method known as phage display, where a bacteriophage – a virus that infects bacteria – can be used to evolve new proteins. British biochemist Winter used phage display to produce new pharmaceuticals. “Today phage display has produced antibodies that can neutralise toxins, counteract autoimmune diseases and cure metastatic cancer,” the Academy said.

On Wednesday the Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to Arthur Ashkin, Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland for advances in the field of laser physics while the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded jointly on Monday to James P Allison and Tasuku Honjo for their “discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation”.