Nobel-winning biochemist gives U. lecture

Medicine » Venki Ramakrishnan began work in Utah.
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Venki Ramakrishnan returns to the University of Utah this week to pay respects to old colleagues, meet students, and give a public lecture on how his ribosome research could improve medicines.

Ramakrishnan is one of three scientists who shared this year's Nobel Prize for Chemistry for breakthroughs in mapping the atomic structure of ribosomes, the protein-building equipment in all cells. As a U. faculty member in the late 1990s, he began his research using X-ray crystallography, but was lured away a decade ago to England's world-renowned Molecular Research Council (MRC) with the promise of stable funding and lower pay.

But upon learning of the Nobel award in October, Ramakrishnan was quick to credit the U. for cultivating his early research and helping him lay the foundation for his breakthroughs.

"I had brilliant colleagues and good friends [in Utah]," he said at the time. "I went to an institution with a long reputation of doing exactly this thing."

Ramakrishnan will discuss the U.'s role in his appearance Wednesday evening for the Benning Society Special Lecture in Medicine at the Rice-Eccles Stadium Tower.

Mapping ribosomes is fundamental research, like plumbing the origins of the universe, but Ramakrishnan's discoveries already are being used to improve antibiotics, the drugs that fight infection-causing bacteria. Ribosomes translate genetic code into the proteins that comprise an organism.

"Antibiotics work by making ribosomes make mistakes," Ramakrishnan said in a recent phone interview from his home in England, where he serves as director of structural studies at MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology. Scientists are using knowledge of ribosome structure in bacteria to devise new lines of antibiotics that will confront the growing scourge of drug-resistant infections.

"It's not only a hope," Ramakrishnan said. "There are already compounds in clinical trials."

Benning Society Special Lecture in Medicine

Who » Venki Ramakrishnan, 2009 winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Formerly of the University of Utah biochemistry department, Ramakrishnan is director of structural studies at MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England.

When » Today, 6:30 p.m.

Where » Rice-Eccles Stadium Tower, 4th Floor, 451 S. 1400 East, on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City.

Cost » Free and open to the public, but RSVP by calling 801-585-2739.