Venkatraman Ramakrishnan wins Nobel Prize for Chemistry

Thursday, October 8, 2009, 13:00 by Tech Correspondent

The India-born Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, a senior scientist at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Cambridge, has won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2009 along with two other scientists.

Photo: Dr Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Chemistry Nobel 2009 award winner

Photo: Dr Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Chemistry Nobel 2009 award winner

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan shares the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Thomas E Steitz, of the United States, and Ada E Yonath, of Israel, for their “studies of the structure and function of the ribosome,” which are described as the protein-producing factories within cells, at the atomic level.

The Nobel Committee said in its citation that “this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry awards Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Thomas A Steitz and Ada E Yonath for having showed what the ribosome looks like and how it functions at the atomic level.”

All the three scientists, according to the Nobel Committee, used a technique known as 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 three Nobel Laureates of this year have all generated 3D models that show how different antibiotics bind to the ribosome, and these models are now used by scientists to develop new antibiotics, directly assisting the saving of lives and decreasing the suffering of humanity,” the citation explained.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, known among friends as Venky, was born in 1952 in Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu in India.

He took his BSc degree in Physics in 1971 from Baroda University in India and his PhD in Physics in 1976 from Ohio University in the United States.

Ramakrishnan later switched over to biology, at the University of California, San Diego. He took classes at the University of California for a year, before he began conducting research with membrane biochemist Dr Mauricio Montal.

Ramakrishnan’s group, using the 5.5 Angstrom-resolution structure, identified key portions of the Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) and, using previously determined structures, positioned 7 proteins of the subunit.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan published two papers in the September 21, 2000, issue of Nature magazine.

In the first paper, he presented the 3 Angstrom structure of the 30S ribosomal subunit.

In the second paper published in Nature, Ramakrishnan revealed the structures of the 30S subunit in complex with 3 antibiotics that target different regions of the subunit. In this paper, he discussed the structural basis for the action of each of these drugs.

Following his post-doctoral fellowship, Ramakrishnan joined the staff of Brookhaven National Laboratory in the United States, where collaborated with Stephen White to clone the genes for several ribosomal proteins and to determine their 3-dimensional structures.

Ramakrishnan also won a Guggenheim Fellowship during his tenure in Brookhaven National Laboratory. He used the fellowship to make his changeover to X-ray crystallography.

In 1995, Ramakrishnan moved to the University of Utah to take up the assignment as a professor in the Department of Biochemistry. It was here that he embarked on his studies on protein-RNA complexes and the entire 30S subunit.

Later, he moved to the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Cambridge, where he is now a senior scientist as well as group leader in the Structural Studies Division.

Ramakrishnan is among the many Nobel laureates who worked at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology.

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