Cambridge Laboratory of Molecular Biology: The Nobel Prize factory

For the 14th time, the judges have honoured a member of the same lab

Yesterday at tea time at Cambridge's Laboratory of Molecular Biology, something a little stronger than the usual brew was being glugged by the scientists gathered on the top floor overlooking Addenbrooke's Hospital.

As the test tubes continued to bubble downstairs, champagne corks flew. Aparty was in full swing to celebrate yet another Nobel Prize success for Britain's most successful research lab. At the centre of festivities was a man who symbolises the international spirit of science – an Indian-born physicist who became an American citizen but has made Britain his professional home.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, known as "Venki" to his friends and colleagues, yesterday became the recipient of the laboratory's 14th Nobel Prize. The LMB, often described as Britain's factory for Nobel gold medals, can trace its biological roots back to the discovery of the DNA double helix in 1953 by Francis Crick and Jim Watson, two of the lab's previous prize-winners.

Dr Ramakrishnan shares the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Ada Yonath of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and Thomas Steitz of Yale University. All three made seminal discoveries working out the three-dimensional atomic arrangement of the ribosome – nanoscopic-sized structures inside every cell that translate the four-letter language of DNA into the many diverse proteins of life.

Understanding ribosomes has been crucial to the discovery of new antibiotics, because so many wonder drugs work by blocking the action of bacterial ribosomes, thereby killing the germs while leaving the human ribosomes of the patient still functioning.

"The laureates of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry have forged an understanding at the atomic level of how nature can transform something as simple as a four-letter code into something as complicated as life itself," said the Swedish Academy of Sciences, which oversees the prize.

"Research driven by curiosity can also, as so many times before, be of practical use. This time it proves useful in the search for new antibiotics."

The mid-morning and afternoon tea breaks at the LMB, which is funded directly by the Medical Research Council, are a tradition dating back to the great, late Max Perutz, another Nobel laureate and former laboratory director whose wife, Gisela, managed the canteen more than half a century ago.

It is a time when the scientists can look up from their microscopes, emerge from their fume cupboards and engage in scholarly, or not-so-scholarly, banter with their colleagues. Yesterday, as so often when the lab wins a Nobel, it turned into a riotous celebration.

"I remember once coming back to the lab after Fred Sanger won his second Nobel [in 1980]," said Richard Henderson, another former director who still works at the LMB. "It was 7.30pm and there were at least a hundred people still in the canteen – and Fred was the only person still standing."

Many of Dr Ramakrishnan's colleagues were not surprised to learn that he had won – he had been tipped to do so since he published his detailed 3D map of a ribosome sub-unit.

Working out the detailed structural map of the ribosome helped to understand how this key element of cells is able to make proteins from the building blocks of amino acids. These miniature protein factories are estimated to make just one mistake in every 100,000 amino acids, working at a manufacturing rate of 20 chemical bonds per second.

Dr Ramakrishnan issued a short statement acknowledging his colleagues and the LMB, which has given its many distinguished scientists the freedom to pursue curiosity-driven research. "The collegiate atmosphere there made it all possible," he said. "The idea of supporting long-term basic research like that at LMB does lead to breakthroughs. The ribosome is already starting to show its medical importance."

*The new permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, Peter Englund, has conceeded this week that the Nobel Prize for Literature has become Eurocentric. His comments come after his predecessor, Horace Engdahl, last year pronounced that the Americans would not be winning the Nobel Prize for literature any time soon.

And the winner is... The Cambridge titles

2002

John Sulston, Sydney Brenner and Robert Horovitz won the physiology or medicine prize for "for their discoveries concerning genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death".

1997

John Walker jointly won the chemistry prize for "elucidation of the enzymatic mechanism underlying the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate".

1984

Georges Köhler and César Milstein won the physiology or medicine prize for their co-work on the immune system and the production of monoclonal antibodies.

1982

Aaron Klug won the chemistry prize for developing crystallographic electron microscopy.

1962

Max Perutz and John Kendrew won the chemistry prize for studies on the structures of haemoglobin and globular proteins.

1962

Francis Crick and James Watson won the physiology or medicine prize for discovering the structure of DNA.

1958 & 1980

Fred Sanger was awarded the chemistry prize twice for determining the sequence of amino acids in insulin.

Sport
Romelu Lukaku
sportChelsea striker sends second teasing tweet of the day
News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
people
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Tax Solicitor

£40000 - £70000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: Tax Solicitor An excel...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Support Analyst

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: This is an exce...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns