Dr. George Smith was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on phage display. He is known not only for his brilliant research, but also for his commitment to high-quality education and acknowledgement of other researchers that helped build the foundation for his work.
As one of a trio of researchers who won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Dr. George Smith is the first University of Missouri System (UM System) professor to win the award for research conducted at the University.
“This is a testament to how UM System professors are addressing the grand challenges facing Missourians, the nation and the world,” UM System President Mun Y. Choi said. “The Nobel Prize represents Professor Smith’s decades of innovation and leadership in biological sciences, and the collaborations he continues to establish throughout the world.”
The Nobel Prize was awarded to Smith for his development of phage display, a groundbreaking advance in which phages, a type of virus, are genetically manipulated to display chosen proteins on their outer surface. The displayed protein acts as a label and provides a simple and effective method to purify these viruses from their surroundings. This technology has been adapted for use in thousands of laboratories and provided scientists a new tool for their own experiments. In addition to advancing research, phage display has also led to new treatments for arthritis, cancer, immune disorders and other health problems.
Smith joined the University of Missouri-Columbia’s (MU)Division of Biological Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences in 1975. He became a professor emeritus in 2015. His extensive body of work has been widely cited and published in the most competitive scientific journals, including Science and Nature. In addition to his research, Smith was known as an effective teacher who instilled critical thinking skills in students through hands-on approaches. Over the course of his career, he distinguished himself as a brilliant researcher, yet his colleagues remark on his humility, which Smith himself made evident after winning the Nobel Prize.
“I am very conscious that I am far from alone in this recognition,” Smith said. “I am representing a whole array of people who created what was necessary for me to make this final little step — people who have shown the way for many imaginative applications.”
Smith attributes his success in research to the environment at MU. “Being at Mizzou, I had a tremendous amount of freedom to explore what I think is interesting,” Smith said. “Not all universities give you the freedom to do that, and I think science depends on that.”
The award validates the impact of the ongoing research in system universities. The UM System will continue to support innovative research and inspire curiosity, in large part by establishing the Translational Precision Medicine Complex (TPMC). Expected to be completed in 2021, the TPMC will be a state-of-the-art research complex that will bring industry and researchers together to develop ideas and technology meant to address real-world challenges. The TPMC is the top capital priority for the UM System and represents a key strategy to fulfilling the University’s mission to enhance the quality of life for Missouri, the nation and the world through research.