Daya Varma and Vinod Mubayi


INSAF Bulletin hails the award of 2009 Chemistry Nobel Prize to India-born Ramakrishnan and commends him for his sympathies to Gujarat Muslims.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan born in 1952 in Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu in 1952 shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Thomas A. Steitz born in 1940 in the US and Ada E. Yonath born in Jerusalem (before the creation of the state of Israel) in 1939. Considering that Nobel Prizes usually are awarded at a rather ripe old age, all the three winners of 2009 Chemistry Nobel Prize are relatively young and Venkatraman (Venki) Ramakrishnan is the youngest, just 57.


Though born in Tamil Nadu, V. Ramakrishnan received his early education in Gujarat and received his undergraduate degree in Physics from MS University in Baroda.  He is currently at Cambridge University in the U.K.  He holds American citizenship. The Nobel Prize of 2009 was awarded for discoveries in the synthesis of protein.


Protein, fat and carbohydrate (sugar) are the three constituents of body besides water; of these three, proteins made up of amino acids vary widely, each performing its specific function. The three main elements involved in the synthesis are DNA, RNA and Ribosomes. The genetic material contained in DNA instructs through RNA the synthesis of a specific protein; the actual structure which synthesizes proteins is known as ribosome. This year’s Nobel prize went for defining the three dimensional structure of ribosomes using the technique of X-ray crystallography [1]


Venkatraman “Venki” Ramakrishnan is a physicist by training. Following his Ph.D. in physics from Ohio University in 1976, he studied biology as a graduate student at the University of California (San Diego) and made the transition from theoretical physics to biology. He started his research on ribosomes as a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University, Connecticut, under the supervision of Professor Peter Moore, an expert on ribosome structure. Later he worked briefly at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, TN and then for several years at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, NY where he did pioneering structure studies of ribosomes at the National Synchrotron Light Source.  After leaving Brookhaven, Professor Ramakrishnan worked at the University of Utah and then joined the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Cambridge England in 1999. Since then he has established the mechanisms by which specificity of protein is maintained. There are several subunits of ribosome and his laboratory has determined the complete atomic structure of the 30S subunit. Ramakrishnan is a Fellow of the Royal Society,  Fellow of the Royal Society, the  U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. He had earlier won the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine and Heatley Medal of the British Biochemical Society.


[1. Crystallography is a powerful tool to determine three dimensional structure of macromolecules; it was developed by John Desmond Bernal (1901-1971), dubbed as the first molecular biologist. Bernal, a physicist and avowed Marxist, worked at Cambridge and London. According to Nobel Laureate John Kendrew Bernal  ‘fathered’ five Nobel Laureates: John Kendrew (1917-1997),  Dorothy Hodgkin (1910-1994), Aaron Klug (1926-), Max Perutz (1914-2002) and Maurice Wilkins (1916-2004). Dorothy Hodgkin was a great friend of India and other developing countries;  during her visit to India, she travelled to Kerala to meet the communist leader EMS Namboodiripad (1909-1998).]

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