2009 Chemistry Nobel Prize Recognizes the Determination of the Ribosome’s Three-Dimensional Structure

We once again received wonderful Nobel news today. We were delighted to learn that three long-time NIGMS grantees–Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Thomas Steitz and Ada Yonath–will share the 2009 Nobel Prize in chemistry Exit icon for their “studies of the structure and function of the ribosome.”

Remarkably, at the same 1987 “Evolution of Catalytic Function” Cold Spring Harbor meeting where I first met Carol Greider, I heard Ada Yonath describe her initial attempts to crystallize and determine the structure of the ribosome. Tom Steitz also spoke about his exciting structure determination of DNA polymerase I, and Peter Moore talked about his work on the ribosome using specific deuterium labeling and neutron scattering methods developed in part with Venki Ramakrishnan. The meeting was filled with the promise that we would one day visualize and begin to understand this elaborate RNA-protein machine in atomic detail. More than a decade later, that promise was realized, as recognized by today’s announcement.

The Nobel committee has the daunting challenge of limiting itself to up to three laureates for each prize. Several other long-time NIGMS grantees who also contributed greatly to our understanding of the structure and function of the ribosome include Peter Moore, Harry Noller and Joachim Frank.

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