2009: Dr Venkatraman Ramakrishnan
Ramakrishnan (MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology) was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Thomas Steitz (Yale University) and Ada Yonath (Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel) for studies of the structure and function of the ribosome. Ramakrishnan, Steitz and Yonath each used a visualisation method called X-ray crystallography to map the position of each of the hundreds of thousands of atoms that make up the ribosome. Their work revealed what the ribosome looks like and how it works at an atomic level.
Ribosomes are essential to life because they use the information encoded in DNA to produce proteins which, in turn, control the chemistry in all living organisms. The ribosome is found in all living cells, including those of bacteria. Human and bacterial ribosomes are slightly different, making the ribosome a good target for antibiotics that work by blocking the bacterium’s ability to make the proteins it needs to function. Ramakrishnan’s work has also shown how antibiotics bind to specific pockets in the ribosome, and could help to develop new drugs that better target bacterial ribosomes, so reducing the side effects of taking antibiotics.