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Let us not take too much ownership of his work.

THIS YEAR, once again, the Nobel Prize for Chemistry has gone to people working on the structure of biochemical molecules.

Last year also, biologists had received the chemistry prize.

That a scientist of Indian origin, Dr Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, has received the prize is a matter of pride.

The other winners are Thomas A. Steitz of the US and Ada E. Yonath from Israel.

There are DNA molecules inside every organism. They are the master molecules or blueprints for the shape and function of an organism, but they do not function directly. The information contained in the DNA molecules gets transcribed into a message in another molecule called the messenger RNA. Now this information must be translated into proteins. That is the work of ribosomes.

A ribosome is basically a chemical factory.

It reads out the message contained in the messenger RNA. The message contains a collection of three- letter words called codons. Codons in the DNA are transcribed into messenger RNAs.

The messenger RNA comes over from the nucleus -- the site of the DNA -- carrying the message and sits on the ribosome.

There, all the words are read. Each word has a corresponding amino acid ( building block of proteins). A ribosome is an assembly line. The words strung together in an RNA -- like beads in a necklace -- are read in the ribosome and then the ribosome assembles for every codon its appropriate amino acid.

A ribosome is a collection of several RNA molecules and some protein molecules.

It makes different proteins in thousands of forms and functions.

What is the structure of the amino acid and RNA molecules in the ribosome? That has been completely worked out by Ramakrishnan and Co.. It helps us understand the structure atom by atom and their positions in the ribosome. For this, they have employed a variety of biochemical and physical techniques. Unravelling the ribosome's working can help us understand life better.

Ramakrishnan's contribution is in unravelling the physical structure of the ribosome using X- rays. Steitz and Yonath have done quite a lot of work too. But Ramakrishnnan is the youngest. He did BSc from Maharaja Sayajirao University and then went to the US for further work. He is currently based in the UK. So, let us not take too much ownership of his work.

D. Balasubramanian is director of research, L V Prasad Eye Institute, and former director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad ( As told to Max Martin)

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Date:Oct 8, 2009
Next Article:Mahasweta in running for Nobel but Amos is favourite.

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