Published: Wed, January 10, 2018
Research | By Jennifer Evans

Har Gobind Khorana, the man who decoded our DNA

Har Gobind Khorana, the man who decoded our DNA

Dr. Khorana's desire for knowledge and incredible accomplishments show us that anything is possible if we work together and apply ourselves to the fullest.

Khorana's biggest contribution to the work was isolating codons, the three-letter sequences of RNA that are the blueprints for amino acids at the fundamental building block of life.

Born in a village in undivided Punjab in 1922, Khorana was and his four siblings were the only literate family in their village of about 100 residents.

His Nobel in Physiology or Medicine came in 1968, while he was at the University of Wisconsin, and he was jointly awarded with colleagues working independently, Robert Holley and Marshall Nirenberg.

In 1966, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States and also received the prestigious National Medal of Science award.

Khorana came from humble beginnings. The Nobel Prize-winner is known for constructing the first synthetic gene.

In 1970, he became a Professor of Biology and Chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.Dr Khorana married a Swiss national, Esther Elizabeth Sibler, who he credited with giving him "a sense of goal when he felt out of place everywhere and at home nowhere". His death was announced by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he was a professor emeritus. They had three children - Julia Elizabeth, Emily Anne, and Dave Roy. This earned him a full scholarship to study chemistry at Punjab University in Lahore, despite skipping the mandatory admissions interview because he was too shy. Prior to 1945 he was unable to leave India, however an award of India Fellowship allowed him to pursue an education. "He went to the University of Liverpool where he obtained his doctorate". "It was the introduction of Khorana to Western civilization and culture", the Nobel biography says.

After completing his PhD, Khorana worked in Zurich, Switzerland for a year, and attained expertise in chemical synthesis of proteins and nucleic acids. "The association with Professor Prelog molded immeasurably his thought and philosophy towards science, work, and effort".

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