Professor Har Ghobind Khorana: Biochemist who helped decipher the genetic code and synthesised the first artificial gene

 

Har Gobind Khorana, who has died at the age of 89, shared the 1968 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for helping decipher the genetic code, and went on to synthesize the first artificial gene. He was Alfred P Sloan Professor Emeritus of biology and chemistry at Massachusetts Institute of Technology – a title which indicates how his work crossed disciplines: chemistry, molecular biology, biophysics and biochemistry.

Almost anyone studying biology today, "may not know they are studying Khorana, but they are," Andy Greene, a director of the biotechnology and bioengineering centre at the Medical College of Wisconsin, said.

Khorana was awarded the 1968 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine with Robert Holley and Marshall Nirenberg for research that helped to show how the nucleotides in nucleic acids, which carry the genetic code of the cell, control the cell's synthesis of proteins.

The basic building blocks of DNA are the nucleotides, and Khorana built on the work of James Watson and Francis Crick – who famously discovered the structure of DNA – showing how the nucleotides combine to form the three-letter "words" that represent amino acids, from which proteins are made.

Khorana was born in 1922 in Raipur, a village in Punjab. He was the son of a tax clerk who ensured he received the best education possible: "Although poor, my father was dedicated to educating his children and we were practically the only literate family in the village."

After gaining an MSc from the Punjab University in Lahore, he won a scholarship that took him to Liverpool University, where he received his PhD in Organic Chemistry. He continued his postdoctoral studies in Zürich then spent two years at Cambridge, moving on to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and in 1960 the Institute for Enzyme Research at the University of Wisconsin, where he did the work that led to his Nobel Prize.

After moving to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1970, he worked to synthesise two genes crucial to building proteins. In 1976, his team synthesised the first completely functional man-made gene in a living cell, paving the way for genetic engineering and the biotechnology industry.

Har Gobind Khorana, scientist: born 9 January 1922; married 1952 Esther Sibler (deceased; one son, one daughter, and one daughter deceased); died 9 November 2011.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect