The 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to Venkatraman Ramakrishnan (UK), Thomas A. Steitz (USA), and Ada E. Yonath (Israel) for "for studies of the structure and function of the ribosome". The ribosome is the cellular machinery that translates the message encoded by the genetic code into proteins. The ribosome translates genetic code into proteins - which are the building blocks of all living organisms. It is also the main target of new antibiotics, which combat bacterial strains that have developed resistance to traditional antibiotic drugs. These new drugs work by blocking the function of ribosomes in bacterial cells, preventing them from making the proteins they need to survive.
Their design has been made possible by research into the structure of the ribosome, because it has revealed key differences between bacterial and human ribosomes. Structures that are unique to bacteria can be targeted by drugs.
Professor Ramakrishnan is based at the Medical Research Council's Molecular Biology Laboratories in Cambridge, UK. Thomas Steitz is based at Yale University in the US, and Ada Yonath is from the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel.
The announcement was made during a press conference at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, during which the three winners were described as "warriors in the struggle of the rising tide of incurable bacterial infections". The prize is to be shared equally between the three scientists, who all contributed to revealing the ribosome's huge and complex molecular structure in detail.