Indian-born scientist gets Nobel Prize

via IANS | London published on October 7, 2009

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, an Indian-born scientist, was on Wednesday awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry along with two others, for showing the world exactly how information contained in the DNA is translated into life — a process that has benefited the fight against infectious diseases.

Ramakrishnan, who is now a US citizen, was named for the $1.42-million award along with American Thomas A Steitz and Israeli Ada E Yonath for their “studies of the structure and function of the ribosome”, which is found in cells with nuclei and translates the DNA code into life.

“An understanding of the ribosome’s innermost workings is important for a scientific understanding of life. This knowledge can be put to a practical and immediate use; many of today’s antibiotics cure various diseases by blocking the function of bacterial ribosomes,” the Nobel committee said.

“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.”

Born in Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, in 1952, Ramakrishnan is a senior research fellow at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, Britain, while Steitz is Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics at Yale University in the US and Yonath is at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel.

A senior fellow at the Trinity College in Cambridge since 2008, Ramakrishnan conducts his research at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology.

Ramakrishnan did his BSc in physics from Baroda University before moving to the US for further studies. He completed his PhD in physics from Ohio University in 1976.

The three scientists got the award for their work in the field of the ribosome, which translates the DNA code into life, described by the Nobel Committee as “one of life’s core processes”.

“Ribosomes produce proteins, which in turn control the chemistry in all living organisms. As ribosomes are crucial to life, they are also a major target for new antibiotics,” the Nobel committee said in a statement.

All three scientists 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.

Inside every cell in all organisms, there are DNA molecules, which contain the blueprints for how a human being, a plant or a bacterium, looks and functions.

But the DNA molecule is passive — the blueprints become transformed into living matter through the work of ribosomes.

Based upon the information in DNA, ribosomes make proteins: oxygen-transporting haemoglobin, antibodies of the immune system, hormones such as insulin, the collagen of the skin, or enzymes that break down sugar. There are tens of thousands of proteins in the body and they all have different forms and functions. They build and control life at the chemical level.

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