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Man who decoded life atom-by-atom

Venkatraman Unravelled Mystery Of How Protein Is Built By A
 Ribosome

TIMES INSIGHT GROUP
 



    
As India celebrates another Nobel moment, science salutes the work of Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, who painstakingly, atom by atom, decoded the structure of ribosomes those tiny worksheds in each cell where life is built.
    Ribosomes are small granules, about 20 nanometers in width (1 nanometer = one billionth of a meter) found in all cells. Using the code carried by DNA molecules, they build proteins.
    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. Hemoglobin that transports oxygen is a protein. So are all antibodies that defend us against infections. And so are all hormones, like insulin, that conduct the finely tuned chemical orchestra of our body. Enzymes, crucial to breaking down food for the bodys use, are also proteins.
    One of the mysteries confronting scientists was how do proteins actually get built in the cells. The blueprint was known to be the double helix of the DNA. It was also known that messenger RNA molecules carry a copy or a template of a particular protein to the small granular ribosomes. But the exact structure of the ribosome, and how it converts a molecular code into a physical molecule of protein was only hazily known. VR unlocked the mystery using technique called X-ray crystallography. Think of it as a kind of 3-D photography using X-rays. In 2000, he built up a picture of a particular part of the ribosome. Later he built the whole picture of every atom in a ribosome, which contain thousands of atoms. This helped in revealing how exactly the template brought by the messenger RNA is used to construct a protein molecule.
    To understand the working of the ribosome is to understand one of the key processes of life.
    And, this has staggering implications for human healthcare and synthesing newer antibiotics. This knowledge can be turned around to disable the ribosomes of hostile bacteria that cause diseases in human body. Already many antibiotics are using this knowledge to kill invading bacteria. They target the ribosomes in the bacteria and stop its functioning. Result: the bacteria dies.
    The two other scientists who shared this years Chemistry Nobel, Thomas A. Steitz of US and Ada E. Yonath of Israel too had worked on the same lines, and their combined knowledge has been harnessed for practical use.
    VRís work also reveals what has become quite common today how modern science uses and builds upon earlier scientific discoveries. The tool that he used X-ray crystallography - was discovered back in early 20th century. This earned Max Von Laue a Nobel in 1914, and the father-son Bragg duo a joint Nobel in 1915. Several scientists used this method and won Nobels for working out structures of things like penicillin, vitamins and cholestrol, and diverse minerals.
    The discovery of the ribosome by Georges Palade won him the Nobel in 1958. Several other scientists have won Nobels for working out the DNA structure (Watson and Crick), RNA functions, among others. Man who decoded life atom-by-atom

 

 

 

 

 

 


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