Biographical Sketch: Ada E. Yonath, Ph.D.

2000 Stetten Symposium

Dr. Ada Yonath is the pioneer of ribosome crystallography. She began this work in the late 1970s, long before most others thought it possible to crystallize such a large, irregular structure. The techniques she developed became routine rapidly and are now in broad use.

In 1980, she created the first ribosome crystals. Her trick was the use of robust ribosomes from thermophilic (heat-loving) and halophilic (salt-loving) bacteria. Ribosomes from these bacteria yield well-diffracting crystals, while ribosomes from E. coli and all other sources had failed to crystallize. Dr. Yonath was also a pioneer in the use of cryocrystallography--flash-freezing crystals--to minimize damage caused by intense X-rays.

Dr. Yonath was the first to observe that the ribosome is riddled with internal channels and chambers, including a cavern that hosts translation and a tunnel that protects newly synthesized proteins. These findings remained controversial for nearly a decade until they were confirmed by cryo-electron microscopy.

Dr. Yonath's record of innovative techniques and approaches continues today. In a recent paper, she used controlled heating and an mRNA analog to trigger protein biosynthesis in ribosomal crystals. She then preserved the activated ribosomal crystals using various chemical compounds.

Lately, she has focused on the small (30S) ribosomal subunit. In the September 1, 2000 issue of Cell, she published the 3.3 Angstrom structure of this subunit.

Dr. Yonath currently manages two research groups--one at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, and the other at the Max Planck Unit of Structural Molecular Biology at DESY (Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron) in Hamburg, Germany. At Weizmann, Dr. Yonath holds the Martin S. Kimmel Professorial Chair and also directs two scientific centers: the Mazer Center for Structural Biology and the Kimmelman Center for Biomolecular Structure and Assembly.

Born in Jerusalem, Dr. Yonath earned her B.Sc (1962) and M.Sc. (1964) degrees at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 1968, she completed her Ph.D. at the Weizmann Institute of Science. She continued postdoctoral studies at Carnegie Mellon University and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she first learned about protein crystallography. In 1970, she returned to the Weizmann Institute and established what was, for almost a decade, the only protein crystallography laboratory in Israel.

Dr. Yonath was recently elected to the Israeli Academy for Science and Humanities, a prestigious society that is akin to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. She was also the first winner of the new European Crystallography Prize, which was established last year to recognize significant achievements in the past 5 to 10 years by European crystallographers.

NIGMS has supported her work since 1985.