Ada Yonath is an Israeli chemist – an x-ray crystallographer – who spent 20 years studying the ribosome. Her persistence paid off, in 2000, when, working with other researchers, she successfully mapped the structure of the ribosome, an achievement for which she shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas A. Steitz.
The ribosome is a complex molecule, consisting of hundreds of thousands of atoms. It’s actually a molecular machine (which is one of the key topics of this year’s chemistry-themed Lindau Meeting).
Residing in the cytoplasm outside the cell nucleus, the ribosome is a protein factory. It translates the coded message in DNA into individual amino acids and assembles them into proteins, which are involved in almost every function of living organisms.
In mammals, there are millions of ribosomes in every cell! Take a moment to absorb that. Millions. In each cell. I have trouble wrapping my mind around that fact. It indicates something about the scale of things. As small as an individual cell is, it somehow contains – among other things(!) – millions of ribosomes, steadily producing proteins. And, again, each ribosome is a complex network of hundreds of thousands of atoms. Mapping its structure is essential to understanding how it functions. And this understanding has provided great insight into the function – and design – of antibiotics, which can kill bacteria by interfering with protein synthesis.
I spoke with Ada at the 2016 Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting – and she is returning this year for her seventh time – because “being able to contribute to young people is one of the miracles that happened to me after I got the Prize.”
Watch the video below to hear Ada’s advice for young scientists and non-scientists alike.