London: Indian-American Venkatraman
Ramakrishnan on Wednesday won the 2009 Nobel prize for Chemistry
along with two others for their path-breaking work on
ribosomes which may help in the development of new
57-year-old Ramakrishnan, who hails from the temple
town of Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu, will share USD 1.4 million
award with Thomas Steitz of the US and Ada Yonath of Israel. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said three
dimensional models developed by the three scientists showed
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 citation.
"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 further said. "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.
Asked about his initial reaction when he heard the news, Venkatraman said: "Well, I think it`s a great honour and surprise! I am very happy!"
"I have to say that I am
deeply indebted to all of the brilliant associates, students
and post docs who worked in my lab as science is a highly
collaborative enterprise," he added.
"I think it`s a mistake to define good work by awards. This is a typical mistake that the public or even the press make. None of you called me about my work even two days ago...right?" Ramakrishnan told a media house in an exclusive interview on phone from Cambridge, Britain.
"I think people have to do what interests (them) and then pursue it...that`s the way to do important work. Whether prizes come your way or not, it`s really not so important."
After his graduation in Physics from Baroda University
in 1971, Ramakrishnan left for the US where he did his Ph.D in
the same subject from Ohio University in 1976 and has been
associated with the Cambridge University for the past 14
As a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University, he worked
on a neutron-scattering map of the small ribosomal subunit of
E Coli. He has been studying ribosome structure ever since.
"The MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology and the
University of Utah supported this work (on ribosome) and the
collegiate atmosphere there 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.
He also said that India has many promising scientists but the press seemed to be "hung up on Western awards like the Nobel".
"There are lots of good scientists in India but I notice the press is hung up about these Western prizes like the Nobel Prize instead of appreciating the excellent work they (scientists) are doing within the context of India," he said.
"No, no I don`t feel that it is necessary any more. There are lots of good labs in India where they can do excellent work. Well, in 1971 there were only a few places in India - there was not much research and money for research in India at that time."
"I have been to India several times since and these days there are some really fantastic places in India like the Indian Institute of Science and several others...those are very good places and very good scientists," Ramakrishnan, 57, said.
Ramakrishnan is currently a senior scientist and
group leader at the Structural Studies Division of the MRC
Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England.
Steitz, a 69-year-old, is a professor of molecular
biophysics and biochemistry at Yale University.
Yonath is a professor of structural biology at the
Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, and the
ninth Israeli to win a Nobel prize.
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.
First Published: Thursday, October 08, 2009, 09:33