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Sir Greg Winter, of Cambridge University, was one of three scientists honoured for their work in producing new enzymes and antibodies, including treatments for cancer.

One half of the nine million Swedish kronor (£770,686) prize will go to the American Frances Arnold from the California Institute of Technology, US. Smith is at University of Missouri, Columbia, while Winter is at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, United Kingdom.

As for Smith, who is only the fifth women to take home a Nobel Prize in chemistry, in 1985, she developed the "phage display" method that eventually became a powerful tool to direct the evolution of antibodies.

Winter's research relies on phase display for the directed evolution of antibodies, or Y-shaped proteins that attach to infectious viruses and bacteria and let immune cells know they need to ward off an attempted invasion. Fifteen graduate alumni have won Nobel Prizes, most recently Kip Thorne, who completed his Ph.D.in 1965 and won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Arnold first tested her method of what has been called "directed evolution" in 1993.

"Very few research breakthroughs are novel. So if you can harness enzymes for your own purposes, this is often more environmentally friendly than using heavy metals or toxic substances to make your chemicals", said Johan Aqvist, a member of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.

He built up a collection of phages, with billions of antibody varieties on their surface, and engineered them make them more effective.

Strickland is an associate professor of physics at the University of Waterloo in Canada, and many have noted that her academic rank does not appear to reflect the significance of her work.

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"Frances's work has added entirely new dimensions to protein chemistry and biotechnology", said Douglas Clark, dean of the College of Chemistry at Berkeley and a friend of Arnold's.

For the first time in decades, the Nobel line-up did not feature a literature award after a rift within the Swedish Academy over a rape scandal involving the husband of a board member left it unable to select a victor. "I am thrilled that she has won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry", said Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber.

He said he learned of the prize in a pre-dawn phone call from Stockholm.

"There are enzymes now in detergents that we use in our dishwasher and have been evolved by this process".

"Every professor in my department saw Frances as an extraordinary student because she was gifted in mathematical analysis, in expressing creative ideas and in her encyclopedic knowledge of molecular biology", said Jeffrey Reimer, now chair of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

"I was not smart enough to anticipate what would come out of this research I had a narrower view than I have now", Smith said.

The peace prize victor will be announced on Friday, followed by economics on Monday.

Last year's prize went to researchers in the United States, Switzerland and Britain who developed a microscope technique that lets scientists see details of the molecules that drive life.