08 October 2009
‘Venky’ Ramakrishnan Shares Prize With Two Others For Work On Proteins That Control Life
An India–born structural biologist whose quest for scientific excellence took him from undergraduate schools in India to graduate and post–doc studies in US and research in UK was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry on Wednesday for work on proteins that control life.
Dr Venkatraman ‘Venky’ Ramakrishnan, 58, who had his early education in the temple town of Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, and Vadodra, Gujarat, before he made tracks to the United States, joined the long list of peripatetic Indians who had early education in India but thrived in the western academic eco–system, to have won the Nobel. Also with a chemistry Nobel, Indians or those with an India–connect figure in all prize categories.
The Swedish Nobel Committee awarded the Prize to Dr Ramakrishnan, who is currently affiliated with the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK, for his work on protein–producing ribosomes, and its translation of DNA information into life. He will share the Prize with Dr Thomas Steitz of Yale University, Connecticut, and Dr Ada Yonath of Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.
In a statement following the announcement of the award, Dr Ramakrishnan expressed gratitude to “all of the brilliant associates, students and post docs who worked in my lab as science is a highly collaborative enterprise.” He credited the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology and the University of Utah for supporting his work and the collegiate atmosphere there that made it all possible.
“The idea of supporting long–term basic research like that at LMB does lead to breakthroughs, the ribosome is already starting to show its medical importance,” he said. The practical importance of Dr Ramakrishnan’s work arises from ribosomes being present in all living cells, including those of bacteria.
The Bio Convert
I thought it was a joke. I have friends who play practical jokes. I complimented him on his Swedish accent. V ramakrishanan on receiving the call from the Nobel academy.
Born in Chidambaram, TN, in 1952, BSc in physics from Baroda, PhD from Ohio. From 1976–78, worked as fellow at California Univ, switching from physics to biology
What Nobel Means
- Every cell in an organism contains strands of DNA, the blueprint
- Blueprint is transformed into living matter by ribosomes that make proteins to carry out the jobs – from skin formation to building immune systems
- Nobel researchers showed how antibiotics bind to ribosomes – today’s antibiotics cure various diseases by blocking functions of ribosomes in bacteria
- Rabindranath Tagore (Lit, 1913)
- C V Raman (Physics, 1930)
- Hargobind Khorana (Medicine, ’68)
- Mother Teresa (Peace, 1979)
- S Chandrashekhar (Physics, 1983)
- Amartya Sen (Economics, 1998)
- R K Pachauri: 2007 for peace, heads UN panel on climate change
- V S Naipaul: 2001 for lit, Trinidada born of Indian origin
- Dalai Lama: 1989 for peace. Leader of Tibetans in exile
- Rudyard Kipling: 1907 (Lit). Born in Bombay
- Ronald Ross: 1902 (Med). Born in Almora
Human and bacterial ribosomes are slightly different, making the ribosome a good target for antibiotic therapy that works by blocking the bacteriums ability to make the proteins it needs to function. Ramakrishnan, Steitz and Yonath demonstrated what the ribosome looks like and how it functions at an atomic level using a visualisation method called X–ray crystallography to map the position of each of the hundreds of thousands of atoms that make up the ribosome, according to the MRC.
“This year’s three Laureates have all generated 3D models that show how different antibiotics bind to the ribosome. 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 Nobel citation explained.
Scientists say growing knowledge of the ribosome has created targets for a new generation of antibiotics. The instruction manual for the creation of proteins is DNA, but the ribosome is the machine which takes information transcribed onto messenger RNA and turns it into proteins.
Elaborating, the MRC said Dr Ramakrishnan’s basic research on the arrangement of atoms in the ribosome has allowed his team not only to gain detailed knowledge of how it contributes to protein production but also to see directly how antibiotics bind to specific pockets in the ribosome structure.