Ada Yonath

Ada Yonath Winner of Wolf Prize in Chemistry - 2006
Ada Yonath

THE 2006/7 WOLF FOUNDATION PRIZE IN CHEMISTRY


The Prize Committee for Chemistry has unanimously decided that the 2006/7 Wolf Prize be jointly awarded to

Ada Yonath
Weizmann Institute of Science
Rehovot, Israe
l

and
George Feher
University of California, San Diego
La Jolla, California, USA

for ingenious structural discoveries of the ribosomal machinery of peptide-bond formation and the light-driven primary processes in photosynthesis.

The work of both scientists has led to a unified picture of basic biological machinery. Ada Yonath was the first to determine against all odds the structure of the ribosome, which is the large protein-synthesis machinery of living cells. George Feher pioneered the structure/function relations of the simplest reaction centre in photosynthesis, revealing the basic principles of light energy conversion in biology.

Professor Ada Yonath
The ribosome is the universal mega-Dalton highly complex riboprotein assembly that translates the genetic code into proteins. The recent emergence of ribosome structures in the crystallographic community is mainly due to Ada Yonath, who uniquely and single-handedly pioneered ribosomal crystallography over more than two decades ago, when others could not even conceive its possibility. By pushing crystallography to its limits, she demonstrated the feasibility of ribosomal crystallography, thus inspiring prominent groups to repeat her experiments. Throughout, she has been the leading force in all stages of structure determination and has introduced fundamental methodological innovations that have greatly impacted the entire field of structural biology.

Yonath´s achievements in protein crystallography were based on the introduction of state-of-the-art ultra-cold bio-crystallography, an innovative method for minimizing the extreme sensitivity of the ribosomal crystal to irradiation. Yonath’s strength, persistence, skills and daring in approaching problems considered insurmountable at the time, let her to explore new experimental and conceptual approaches, later adopted by the scientific community at large.

Ada Yonath was the first to discover the unified ribosomal mechanism leading to the production of proteins. However, Ada Yonath´s recent endeavour also comprises applied aspects, as it sheds light on targeting antibiotics toward a ribosome complex. She is the first and only person to determine, in an incredibly short time, the structures of over a dozen different complexes of antibiotics, reveal the ribosome-antibiotics binding sites on the molecular level and provide insight into antibiotics selectivity.
Her work paves the way to deal with the crucial issue of drug activity and resistance mechanisms, thus touching on a central problem in medicine.

Professor George Feher
His ingenious contributions to science are centered on two recurrent themes, which address the development of novel and revolutionary spectroscopic tools, on the one hand, and their applications, in particular, to problems in biochemistry and biophysics, on the other.

George Feher´s invention of electron-nuclear double resonance ENDOR, as an example of only one of the novel methods, opened a field of applications, the enormous breadth of which only became apparent in the course of time. This method allows one to obtain detailed information on structure both for polycrystalline and for amorphous materials. Due to these features ENDOR has become a great asset in the study of biological systems with paramagnetic centers.

Although the existence of a 'reaction center' in photosynthesis was postulated as early as 1952, its true nature became apparent only through the work of a later generation of scientists from all over the world. Feher was the first to identify the amino acid sequence of a membrane protein, and built the essential steps of developments that led to the present detailed understanding of the reaction center, including its structure. Feher´s impressive work in research on photosynthesis rests on his extraordinarily vivid imagination and on the sustained discipline with which he forced himself to master the underlying biochemistry in a brilliant and systematic manner. These qualities allowed him to view the complex problems related to the primary steps of photosynthetic energy conversion in their entirety, while many specialists tended to concentrate only on individual pieces of the puzzle.

Since insight into the structure and the charge separation mechanism of the reaction center has provided the principles of optimized light energy conversion in biology, Feher´s work is seminal for the construction of synthetic and semi-synthetic molecular energy converters, which may have profound implications in an energy-demanding world.