Ohio Today: For Alumni and Friends of Ohio University

A Laureate among us
Ohio University alumnus receives Nobel Prize in Chemistry

By Jennifer Krisch


Ohio University alumnus Venkatraman "Venki" Ramakrishnan, Ph.D. '76, was presented with a 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on the function of ribosomes. The ceremony took place at the Stockholm Concert Hall in Sweden on Dec. 10, presided over by King Carl XVI Gustaf.

2009 Nobel Laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan Click here* to watch extended video of the 2009 Nobel Prize Award presentation ceremony. The following are approximate time codes highlighting key moments pertaining to the presentation of Ramakrishnan's Nobel Prize:
  • 27:00 Chemistry Award presentation begins, initially in Swedish
  • 30:30 Description of Ramakrishnan's work, camera on him
  • 31:30 Speaker switches to English language
  • 32:20 Award presented to Ramakrishnan by the king

Ramakrishnan attended Ohio University's graduate physics program starting in 1971, earning his Ph.D. in 1976. After completing his doctorate Ramakrishnan shifted the direction of his research to emphasize biochemistry and molecular biology. He has since dedicated his work to the study of ribosome function at the atomic level, and their relation to DNA and how antibiotics bind to the ribosome.

"We're tremendously excited -- it's a great honor," said Joseph Shields, chair and professor of Ohio University's Department of Physics and Astronomy. We think Dr. Ramakrishnan is certainly deserving, and we're very proud to have an alumnus receive a Nobel Prize."

Ramakrishnan shares the prize with Thomas A. Steitz of Yale University and Ada E. Yonath of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

Ribosomes are found in all living cells, including bacteria, and control the chemistry in living organisms. Studying the differences between human and bacterium ribosomes, the scientists have found that ribosomes work well with antibiotics by blocking the bacteria's ability to produce the proteins it needs to function.

According to a Nobel Foundation release, understanding the ribosome's innermost workings is important for a scientific understanding of life -- many of today's antibiotics cure various diseases by blocking the function of bacterial ribosomes. Without functional ribosomes, bacteria cannot survive, making ribosomes an important target for new antibiotics, it states.

"This year's three Laureates have all generated 3D models that show how different antibiotics bind to the ribosome," the release states. "These models are now used by scientists in order to develop new antibiotics, directly assisting the saving of lives and decreasing humanity's suffering."

In 2006, Ramakrishnan was awarded Ohio University's Outstanding Alumni Award by the College of Arts and Sciences. He returned to campus in 2008 to present a special colloquium titled, "The Ribosome: The cell's protein factory and how antibiotics sabotage it."

A mentor and good friend, Ron Cappelletti, professor emeritus of the physics department, said Ramakrishnan is most deserving of the award.

"I'm absolutely delighted that he won the Nobel Prize," Cappelletti said. "As a scholar, it was obvious from the beginning that he was brilliant."

Ramakrishnan currently leads a research group at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England, and is a Fellow at Trinity College at the University of Cambridge. He is also a recipient of the Louis Jeantet Prize for Medicine and the Heatley Medal from the British Biochemical Society; and is a Fellow of the Royal Society and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

* Following this link takes you outside Ohio University's Web site.

Story updated 12-14-09; Posted 10-07-09

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