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Biochemist Harry Noller receives 2004 Massry Prize

By Tim Stephens

Harry Noller, the Sinsheimer Professor of Molecular Biology at UCSC, and Ada Yonath of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovat, Israel, have been awarded the 2004 Massry Prize. The researchers were recognized for their groundbreaking research on the structure and function of the ribosome.

Harry Noller

The Meira and Shaul G. Massry Foundation established the Massry Prize in 1996 to recognize outstanding contributions to the biomedical sciences and the advancement of health. Founded by Shaul Massry, professor emeritus of medicine at the University of Southern California, the nonprofit foundation promotes education and research in nephrology, physiology, and related fields. The Massry Prize includes a $40,000 honorarium.

The award honors the independent work of Noller and Yonath to reveal the atomic-level workings of ribosomes and how they function to decode the genetic information and synthesize all the proteins found in cells. The ribosome is a complex molecular machine composed of the nucleic acid RNA and proteins.

The foundation singled out Noller, director of UCSC's Center for Molecular Biology of RNA, for his hypothesis, since proven, that the RNA component of the ribosome serves as the main catalyst in joining amino acids together to build proteins.

In the 1970s, when Noller and Yonath began studying the ribosome, the idea that the precise structure of such an enormously complex machine could be determined was "beyond the imagination of most other scientists," according to the foundation's award announcement.

"Through enormous effort, ingenious technical breakthroughs, and sheer intellectual insight, they succeeded in all respects. The precise structure of the ribosome is now clear; moreover, the details of this structural determination have allowed a clear and reconfigured notion of its fundamental mechanisms," according to the foundation.

The central role of the ribosome in all life forms establishes it as a key target for drugs to fight infections and cancer. Recent research by Noller and Yonath to investigate the interactions of the ribosome with antibiotics and other small molecules underscores the importance of their fundamental discoveries in the struggle against disease processes, the foundation noted.

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