What can be a better start to the dawn of a new decade than to interact with not one but two Nobel Laureates? 2011 has been declared as the International year of Chemistry. And to celebrate the same, CLRI, Anna University and University of Madras jointly organised a back-to-back lecture session with Professor Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Professor Thomas A. Steitz, Nobel Laureates in Chemistry of 2009 on 5th January 2011 at Students Activities Center(SAC), IITM.
Post graduate students dominated the fairly large audience, though considerable number of BTech students (mostly BT) could be spotted too. The first lecturer was Professor Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, the seventh Indian or of Indian origin to win the prestigious Nobel prize. He started off by thanking his research team members at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge where he now works as a senior scientist. Unravelling biological mysteries, said Professor Venkatraman, is no less than a gripping detective thriller.
The lecture began with an impressive animation showing how proteins are synthesised from ribosome at atomic level. Such explicit simulations are the result of the highly developed technique of X-ray crystallography whose primitive version existed at the time of Watson, Crick, and Wilkins when they decipher the helical structure of DNA. As a result, bigger molecular structures like ribosome continued to be an elusive area of research until Professor Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Professor Thomas A. Steitz and Professor Ada E. Yonath independently used X-ray crystallography to map the position for each and every one of the hundreds of thousands of atoms that make up the ribosome. The latter half of the lecture basically focussed on how Professor Venkatraman and his team started out with identifying key portions of the RNA and after almost a decade, were able to clone the genes for several ribosomal proteins and determine their three-dimensional structures. The talk ended with another interesting musical animation which sort of summarised his Nobel winning research work.
Up next, Professor Thomas A. Steitz, Professor Venkatraman’s contemporary, took to the stage to discuss about the impact of structural and functional discoveries of the ribosome on antibiotics. An understanding of the ribosome’s innermost workings is important for a scientific understanding of life, said Professor Thomas. This knowledge can be put to a practical and immediate use; many of today’s antibiotics cure various diseases by blocking the function of bacterial ribosomes. Without functional ribosomes, bacteria cannot survive. This is why ribosomes are such an important target for new antibiotics. His share of simulations included 3D models that showed how different antibiotics bind to the ribosome. These models are now used by scientists in order to develop new antibiotics, directly assisting the saving of lives and decreasing humanity’s suffering.
The enlivening evening concluded with an interactive session with the audience.