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Ohio University alumnus receives Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Ohio University alumnus Venkatraman "Venki" Ramakrishnan has received a 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on the function of ribosomes.

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 cleads 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.

Media contact:
Renea Morris, executive director, University Communications and Marketing, at 740-593-2200 or Jennifer Krisch, media specialist, at 740-597-1939 or

Renea Morris | Ohio University
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