Sidney Altman

Prof. Dr. Sidney Altman

Nationality
Canada 
Institution
Yale University 
Award
1989 
Discipline
Chemistry 
Co-recipients
Prof. Dr. Thomas Cech 

Biography on the Official Web Site of the Nobel Prize

CURRICULUM VITAE

Born in Montreal, Canada, on May 8, 1939. Studied physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, receiving his Bachelor of Science degree in 1960. After two years at Columbia he moved to the University of Colorado Medical Center, from which he received his Ph. D. in Biophysics. Postdoctoral studies at Harvard, then in Cambridge, where he began research which resulted in the discovery of the catalytic properties of RNS, which later earned him the Nobel Prize. Went to the Department of Biology of Yale University in 1971, where he was made professor in 1981. Department head 1983-85, then Dean of Yale College until 1989, when he resumed research as Sterling Professor of Biology.

Altman shared the 1989 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with the American Thomas Cech of the University of Colorado, which was awarded to them for having discovered, independently of one another, "that nucleic acids not only carry genetic information but can also act as biocatalysts" - an unexpected discovery which not only changed our basic understanding of life processes at molecular level but also paved the way for developing new forms of defences against viral infections based on genetic engineering.

Chemical reactions require catalysts. Biological catalysts - enzymes - participate in nearly all chemical reactions in living cells. Before Cech and Altman's discovery, it was believed that all enzymes were proteins. The two researchers found that the enzymes catalyzing the transcription of the DNA code into the RNA code came from RNA molecules rather than from proteins. In 1978 Altman demonstrated, on a bacterial enzyme called RNAs-P, which consists of a protein and an RNS molecule, that the latter was a prerequisite for the catalytic property of the enzyme, and in 1983 he proved that only the nucleic acid, not the protein, was responsible for the enzyme's catalytic property.

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Sidney Altman

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