October 7th, 2009 | Uncategorized

Steitz wins Nobel Prize for Chemistry

Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry Thomas Steitz is one of the three winners of this year’s Nobel Prize for Chemistry, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced today. Steitz garnered the award in recognition of his work mapping out the ribosome. (Humanities majors: that’s the part of a cell that produces protein.)

Steitz — along with Venkatraman Ramakrishnan of the MRC Laboratory in Molecular Biology in Cambridge and Ada E. Yonath from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel — now has an invitation to the prize ceremony in Stockholm on Dec. 10. The three winners will also be splitting a $1.4 million prize.

Steitz’s research focused on mapping out the atomic makeup of atoms, using a method called X-ray crystallography. Steitz, Ramakrishnan and Yonath created 3-D models showing how different antibiotics bind to ribosomes — and those models could help scientists to discover better antibiotics to combat some of the world’s most harmful diseases.

Steitz, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, is originally from Milwaukee. Alas, he’s a Harvard grad — he received a degree in molecular biology and biochemistry there in 1966. There will be a press conference at noon today in the President’s Room of Woolsey Hall, so stay tuned for more details.