What does carbohydrate chemist Chi-Huey Wong have in common with architect Frank Gehry, physicist Stephen Hawking, and musicians Riccardo Muti, Pierre Boulez, and Zubin Mehta? Like these other notables, Wong has won a Wolf Prize.
The Israel-based Wolf Foundation announced on Jan. 17 that Wong will receive the 2014 Wolf Prize in Chemistry. The foundation recognized Wong for having pioneered the development of chemical and enzymatic syntheses “that enable the previously impossible or infeasible synthesis and study of … complex carbohydrates, glycoproteins, and related substances.”
A chemoenzymatic approach to carbohydrate synthesis Wong developed early in his career “remains the most practical and efficient method available to date for large-scale synthesis of oligosaccharides,” the foundation says. And “the programmable one-pot synthesis of oligosaccharides originated by his group is the first automated approach to this class of complex molecules.”
Wong’s work has helped advance the understanding of cancer progression, bacterial and viral infection, immune function, and glycoprotein folding. It has also led to carbohydrate-based vaccines and therapeutics and to the development of glycan microarrays, which are widely used to analyze protein-carbohydrate interactions.
Wong has been a chemistry professor at Scripps Research Institute California since 1989. Since 2006 he has served simultaneously as president of the national academy of sciences of Taiwan, Academia Sinica, and he is currently chief scientific adviser to the executive branch of the government of the Republic of China in Taiwan. He also directed the Frontier Research Program on Glycotechnology at RIKEN, in Japan, from 1991 to 1999.
This year’s Wolf Prizes also include awards in medicine to Victor Ambros of the University of Massachusetts Medical School and Gary Ruvkun of Harvard Medical School for discoveries of microRNAs, short RNAs that regulate transcription in plants and animals, and to Nahum Sonenberg of McGill University for pioneering work in the field of protein translation.
Since 1978, the Wolf Foundation has awarded several prizes annually in the sciences and arts, each consisting of a certificate and a monetary award of $100,000. Wong and other 2014 Wolf laureates will receive their awards from the president of Israel later this year at a ceremony at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in Jerusalem.