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American evolutionary engineer wins USD 1.2 mn tech prize

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London: An American innovator has become the first woman to win a USD 1.2 million technology prize in Finland for her path-breaking work on “directed evolution”, a method of rewriting DNA to create new and better proteins.

Frances Arnold, a biochemical engineer, has been awarded the 2016 Millennium Technology Prize by the Technology Academy Finland (TAF) in recognition of her discoveries that launched the field of “directed evolution”, which mimics natural evolution to create new and better proteins in the laboratory.

Arnold’s innovation has been used widely also to create enzyme catalysts to manufacture pharmaceuticals.


The method has already resulted in more efficient processes for making numerous medicines, including a treatment for Type-II diabetes.

“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 recognised for it,” the 59-year-old said.

Her award-winning innovative technology uses the power of biology and evolution to solve the world’s problems, including making sustainable development and clean technology available in many areas of industry.

Arnold is the first woman to win the prize founded in 2004. It aims to be a technology equivalent of the Nobel Prizes for the sciences, which have been criticised by some for focusing too much on traditional, decades-old scientific research.

“Awarding Frances Arnold’s innovation is indeed very timely, as a number of countries, including Finland, are aiming at clean technology and green growth,” said Prof Marja Makarow, chair of TAF.

The Millennium Technology Prize, presented every two years, is a Finnish prize awarded in recognition of innovators of technologies that promote sustainable development and a better quality of life.

This year’s winner follows in the footsteps of past winners such as World Wide Web creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of bright blue and white LEDs Shuji Nakamura and ethical stem cell pioneer Shinya Yamanaka.