Americans Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas Steitz and Israeli Ada Yonath won the 2009 Nobel Prize in chemistry on Wednesday for mapping ribosomes,the protein-producing factories within cells,at the atomic level.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said their work has been fundamental to the scientific understanding of life and has helped researchers develop antibiotic cures for various diseases.
Yonath is the fourth woman to win the Nobel chemistry prize and the first since 1964,when Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin of Britain received the prize.
This year’s three laureates all generated three-dimensional models that show how different antibiotics bind to ribosomes.
“These models are now used by scientists in order to develop new antibiotics,directly assisting the saving of lives and decreasing humanity’s suffering,” the academy said in its announcement.
“All three have used a method called X-ray crystallography to map the position for each and every one of the hundreds of thousands of atoms that make up the ribosome,” the academy said.
Here are some details about the winners:
– Born in 1952 in Chidambaram,Tamil Nadu,India,he is a U.S. citizen.
– Gained a PhD in Physics in 1976 from Ohio University.
– He has been since 1999 a senior scientist and group leader at Structural Studies Division,MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology,at Cambridge and is a Fellow at Trinity college in Cambridge.
– Ramakrishnan’s crystal structures of the ribosome’s small subunit have been crucial for the understanding of how the ribosome achieves its precision. He identified something that could be described as a molecular ruler. Using the ruler twice,the ribosome double-checks that everything is correct.
THOMAS A. STEITZ:
– Steitz,born in Milwaukee,Wisconsin in 1940,is the Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator at Yale University.
– He received his BA degree in chemistry from Lawrence College in Appleton,Wisconsin in 1962,and a PhD degree in molecular biology and biochemistry from Harvard,with William Lipscomb in 1966.
– After a year of postdoctoral work in Harvard,he worked in the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge with Dr. David Blow,before joining Yale University.
– His research has focused on using protein and nucleic acid X-ray crystallography to establish the structural basis of enzyme mechanisms and of protein-nucleic acid interactions in the cell.
– His structural work on the ribosome and other enzymes involved in DNA replication,translation and transcription,have provided insight into the pathways involved in information transfer and genome stability in the cell.
– The Steitz lab’s work on antibiotics that target the large ribosomal subunit may also help provide the basis for design of new antibiotics effective against antibiotic resistant microorganisms.
ADA E. YONATH:
– Yonath is the ninth Israeli Nobel laureate in any field and the fourth woman to win the chemistry prize and first since 1964. She is also the first Israeli female Nobel winner.
– She was born in Jerusalem in June 1939 and gained a BA in chemistry at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and then an MA in biophysics. She completed her doctoral thesis with distinction at the Weizmann Institute of Science. She later specialized abroad in biological crystallography,and on her return to Israel she founded the first laboratory in this field.
– She has been a professor at the Weizmann Institute since 1988,holding the Kimmel chair. She headed the Kimmelman Center for Biomolecular Structure and Assembly since 1989. Between 1986 and 2004,alongside her work at the Institute,she served as head of the research unit of the Max Planck Institute in Hamburg.
– She has studied the processes related to the translation of the genetic code into proteins and her unique studies made it possible to determine the detailed three-dimensional structure of the ribosome.
– She has focused on finding ways to improve antibiotics that paralyse the ribosome. The results of the research done in this field have won her a reputation among international pharmaceutical companies.
– She was a co-recipient (with George Feher) of the 2006 Wolf Prize in Chemistry for ingenious structural discoveries of the ribosomal machinery of peptide-bond formation and the light-driven primary processes in photosynthesis.
– She has received many prizes for her work,including the Israel Prize for chemistry (2002) and the Wolf Foundation Prize (2006/2007).