Prof. Ada E. Yonath, a Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, delivering a speech at NWU Nobel Laureates Forum and a short course
On the afternoon of September 8, Prof. Ada E.
Yonath, the winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2009, delivered a speech entitled
“From Basics Science to Modern Medicine” at the 11th NWU Nobel Laureates Forum.
Prof. Yonath is the fourth woman to win the Nobel chemistry prize and
is also hailed as “Madame Curie of Israel”. As a sideline event to the forum, Prof.
Yonath will give a short course to the faculty and students every night from
September 8 to 12.
At the forum, Vice President Chang Jiang, member of
the Standing Committee of the NWU Party Committee, made a welcome speech and presented
Prof. Yonath the certificate of Honorary Professor of Northwest University and a
souvenir. Over 500 teachers and students of Northwest University, Shaanxi
Normal University, Xi’an University of Posts and Telecommunications, and Xi’an
University of Engineering attended the event. The forum was chaired by the head
of the Science and Technology Department.
Prof. Yonath’s lecture focused on ribosome. She
pointed out that the ribosome is of great significance to understanding the
principles of life, and its structure is the key to studying the working
mechanism of the ribosome. She believed that the ribosome is an important
machine in the cell that translates the genetic code into proteins. It can
perfectly integrate decoding, peptide bond formation, and extension of new
proteins into a sequence. In view of its importance, the ribosome is often the
target of some antibiotics. The antibiotics paralyze ribosomes by binding to
their functional sites. She said that studying the crystal structures of the
ribosome and antibiotic compounds could reveal their structural information
such as antibiotic binding patterns, inhibitory activity, and
synthesis pathways. She emphasized that bacteria have a “survival instinct”
that make them antibiotic resistance after being repeatedly exposed to antibiotics.
Drug resistance has now become a global issue. The World Bank estimated that up
to 3.8% of the global economy would be lost by 2050 because of resistance to
antibiotics. She said that about 40% of clinically effective antibiotics kill
bacteria by inhibiting certain ribosome structures. The ribosome is the cell’s
protein “synthesis factory”. If bacterial ribosome can be prevented from
working properly, the growth of bacteria will be stopped. Prof. Yonath recalled
that since the 1980s, she and her team began to study the structure and function
of the ribosome. She hoped that the effectiveness of antibiotics could be increased
through scientific research. She pointed out that the research of her team can
be used to develop new antibiotics to help reduce pain and save lives.
Prof. Yonath was the first to determine the
high-resolution structure of the ribosome, the machine for protein synthesis,
making outstanding contributions to reducing the side effects of antibiotics
and the development of new drugs. Due to her outstanding contribution in this
field, Prof. Yonath was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2009 together
with other two scientists. The three Nobel laureates have all generated 3D
models that show how different antibiotics block the function of bacterial
ribosomes. These models are now used by scientists to develop new antibiotics,
directly assisting the saving of lives and decreasing humanity’s suffering.
In the Q&A session, Prof. Yonath answered
questions about ribosome from the audience. She also told them that researchers
should be prepared to be alone in their quest, courageous enough to explore new
fields, bold enough to make hypotheses, and tapping into their own innovation.
She emphasized that excellent scientists must always be curious and concentrated,
not blindly follow the advice of others, and let interest lead their research.
NWU has launched the Nobel Laureates Forum since 2017. There have been 11 Nobel laureates and top scholars including Prof. Yonath being invited to give lectures, and two Nobel Laureate Studios have been established on this basis. Prof. Yonath is the third Nobel Prize winner in chemistry and the first female laureate to the forum. After this lecture, she will give the fourth Nobel laureate short course. The teachers and students can learn more about her research and feel her personal charm in short distance, and get a glimpse of a top researcher’s thoughts and scientific pursuit.
Ada E. Yonath, an Israeli scientist and Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, is currently the director of the Zimmerman Biomolecular Structure and Assembly Center at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. Born in Jerusalem in 1939, she studied at the Hebrew University and the Weizmann Institute of Science where she received her Ph.D. in X-Ray Crystallography in 1968. In 1970, Yonath made the first protein crystallography lab in Israel. In 2008, she won the L’Oreal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science for her research on bacterial resistance. In 2009, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her studies on the structure and function of the ribosome, thus becoming the fourth female scientist to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry after Madame Curie, Irène Joliot-Curie and Dorothy Hodgkin, and the first woman to receive this honor in nearly 50 years (1964-2015). She is also hailed as “Madame Curie of Israel”. (Photo / Ma Qian)