Ada Yonath

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Ada E. Yonath (2013)

Ada E. Yonath , née Lifshitz (born June 22, 1939 in Jerusalem ) is an Israeli structural biologist at the Weizmann Institute for Science in Rechowot , Israel . She developed processes for the crystallization of ribosomes , which finally made it possible to use X-ray structure analysis to explain their structure down to the atomic level. As a result, she managed to elucidate the mechanism of action of more than 20 antibiotics . Together with Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas A. Steitz, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2009 “for studies on the structure and function of the ribosome”.


Ada Yonath (nee Lifshitz) was born in the Geula neighborhood of Jerusalem. Her parents, Hillel and Esther Lifshitz, were Zionist Jews who emigrated from Łódź ( Poland ) to Palestine in 1933 .

Ada Yonath studied chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem from 1959 . Following her bachelor's degree, she studied biochemistry from 1962 and, after receiving her master's degree, moved to the Weizmann Institute in 1964, where she worked on her dissertation in the field of X-ray crystallography until 1968 . After two years at the Mellon Institute and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology , she returned to the Weizmann Institute's chemistry department in 1970. In 1974 she moved to the structural chemistry department , where she held an extraordinary professorship from 1984. Since 1988 she has been Professor of Structural Biology and since 1989 Director of the Kimmelmann Center for Biomolecular Assemblies at the Weizmann Institute.

In parallel to his work at the Weizmann Institute, Yonath had been a lecturer at Tel Aviv University , the Ben Gurion University of the Negev and the Open University of Israel since 1971 . She researched u. a. at the Dental School of the University of Alabama (1974), at the University of Chicago (1977–1978) and with Heinz-Günter Wittmann at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin-Dahlem (1979–1983). Wittmann's department dealt with ribosome research. From 1986 to 2004 she headed one of the three Max Planck working groups at DESY in Hamburg , which were founded to use the synchrotron radiation at DESY for biological structure elucidation .

Research performance

Ada E. Yonath at the Weizmann Institute of Science

Ada Yonath is the pioneer in the elucidation of the structure of ribosomes. At the end of the 1970s she began the X-ray structure analysis of ribosomes, which until then had been considered hopeless by most researchers because of its size. The first step is to make a crystal, which is difficult with the large protein / RNA complexes. Yonath came up with the idea of ​​obtaining the ribosomes for crystallization from the bacterium Geobacillus stearothermophilus , which lives in hot springs and can withstand temperatures of up to 75 ° C. She assumed that because of this, its ribosomes would be extremely stable and form better crystals. Ribosomes consist of two subunits: In 1980 she received the first crystals of the large subunit of the ribosome, which, however, were still quite impure.

It took Ada Yonath twenty years to generate an image of both subunits of the ribosome, in which the position of each individual atom was determined. For this purpose, she developed new techniques, such as shock freezing in liquid nitrogen or liquid propane and cryo- X-ray structure analysis: exposure of the crystals at 90 to 100 K (approx. −180 ° C). When it turned out that their path was feasible, more and more scientists became interested in the field, including Thomas Steitz and Venkatraman Ramakrishnan , who were also awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2009.

At the beginning of the 1990s, the crystals were good enough to resolve the position of individual atoms in the X-ray structure analysis. However, the phase problem still arose . When the X-ray light is scattered, a point pattern is created and the phase angle has to be determined for each individual point, in principle a mathematical problem. A common trick is to incorporate a high atomic weight element, such as iodine , into the crystal and then repeat the inclusion. The phase angle can be determined from the comparison of the point patterns with and without heavy atoms. However, ribosomes are so large that they bind too many heavy atoms. This problem was finally solved by Steitz. So it happened that in 1998 Steitz published the first crystal structure of the large subunit of a ribosome, which however did not yet make individual atoms visible.

Almost simultaneously with Steitz, who had worked on the large subunit, Ramakrishnan and Yonath published the structure of the small subunit of Thermus thermophilus . This made it possible to understand the function of the ribosome at the atomic level. Ada Yonath subsequently studied how various antibiotics bind to the ribosomes of bacteria and thus block them. This work has become the starting point for the development of new antibiotics.


Telephone conversation with Ada Yonath during the announcement of the Nobel Prize

In 2009, Ada Yonath was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry together with Thomas A. Steitz and Venkatraman Ramakrishnan .

She has been a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities since 2000 and of the US National Academy of Sciences since 2003 , as well as the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the International Academy of Astronautics . In addition, she was elected as an honorary foreign member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2005. In 2013 Ada Yonath was elected a member of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina . In 2014 she was also appointed to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and in 2020 she was elected to the Royal Society as a foreign member .

For her work in the field of ribosome research, she was awarded the Israel Prize in 2002 and - together with Harry Noller - the Massry Prize and the Paul Karrer Medal in 2004 and the Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize in 2007 . She also received the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize (2005), the Wolf Prize (2007), the Albert Einstein World Award of Science (2008) and - for her life's work - the UNESCO L'Oréal Prize for Women in Science (2008).

In 2009 she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her cell research into the structure and function of ribosomes. In 2010 Ada Yonath was awarded the Wilhelm Exner Medal .

In 2012 she was awarded an honorary doctorate from the chemistry department of the University of Hamburg , and in 2014 from the Technical University of Berlin .


Web links

Commons : Ada E. Yonath  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Information from the Nobel Foundation on the 2009 award ceremony to Ada E. Yonath, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas A. Steitz (English)
  2. K. Appelt, J. Dijk, R. Reinhardt, S. Sanhuesa, SW White, KS Wilson, A. Yonath (1981): The crystallization of ribosomal proteins from the 50 S subunit of the Escherichia coli and Bacillus stearothermophilus ribosome. In: J. Biol. Chem. 256 (22): 11787-11790. PMID 7028741
  3. N. Ban, B. Freeborn, P. Nissen, P. Penczek, RA Grassucci, R. Sweet, J. Frank, PB Moore, TA Steitz (1998): A 9 Å resolution X-ray crystallographic map of the large ribosomal subunit. In: Cell. 93 (7): 1105-1115. PMID 9657144
  4. A. Tocilj, F. Schlünzen, D. Janell, M. Glühmann, HA Hansen, J. Harms, A. Bashan, H. Bartels, I. Agmon, F. Franceschi, A. Yonath (1999): The small ribosomal subunit from Thermus thermophilus at 4.5 A resolution: pattern fittings and the identification of a functional site. In: Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 96 (25): 14252-14257. PMID 10588692
  5. BT Wimberly, DE Brodersen, WM Clemons Jr, RJ Morgan-Warren, AP Carter, C. Vonrhein, T. Hartsch, V. Ramakrishnan (2000): Structure of the 30S ribosomal subunit. In: Nature. 407 (6802): 327-339. PMID 11014182
  6. Member entry by Prof. Dr. Ada Yonath (with picture and CV) at the German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina , accessed on June 6, 2016.
  7. ^ The Pontifical Academy of Sciences: Ada E. Yonath.
  8. ^ L'Oréal UNESCO Prize: "For Women in Science".
  9. All medalists since 1921 , accessed on April 27, 2020 in
  10. Awarding of an honorary doctorate to Prof. Ada E. Yonath. From: , accessed on May 26, 2019
  11. TU Berlin awards Nobel Prize winner Ada E. Yonath with an honorary doctorate. Press release from February 3, 2014 at the Informationsdienst Wissenschaft (