Friday, October 06, 2006

2006 Chemistry Nobel

goes to Roger Kornberg of Stanford (Noble website here). Cutting edge chemistry these days is often indistinguishable from cutting edge biology!

At the very least, go and check out the public information of what this guy achieved (a sole winner is so rare these days!). It is nothing less than a complete description of how our DNA gets turned into proteins at the molecular level. This is probably one of the most fundamental things you could work on and his lab had absolutely no success, no papers, no nothing for seven years before his ideas came to fruition.
seven years! i can't go seven weeks before throwing up my hands and declaring defeat!

The picture above is the end result of some painstaking and incredible chemistry/biochemistry/X-ray crystallography. He was able to literally stop the process of building a protein half way, get the resulting solution to crystallise, and then interpret the crystallography to paint the above picture. It's like working out the entire 9 hours of the LoTR's trilogy by only allowing 1.03 hours of Pippin to be used up and and getting a static image of what the scene was at the point Pippin was next supposed to be there! Repeat with a new 'amount' of Pippin. Repeat with new character. Repeat, repeat repeat...

The above picture shows RNA-polymerase in white, DNA-helix in blue and the
growing RNA-strand in red. See how the original blue DNA strand is being unwound and 'presented' to the purpulish metal atom in the centre of the system. The cavity that is opened is completely specific to the correct RNA-building block - it's like presenting a jigsaw puzzle one gap at a time and then trying all the pieces until one fits. Once the new RNA-bit is plugged in, the little green helix, which is being flexed back and forth by the action that changes the cavity shape, acts like a ratchet and shunts the DNA strand along one more step ready to repeat.
Amazing huh? and to think that my body is doing this right now, as i type so that i can think, do and breath.
Computer geeks think their toy is the best thing to come out of the '90s, i think there's a whole bunch of us scientists that think we've got some pretty cool toys of our own!

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