Weizmann biologist one of 5 women to get UNESCO award

Prof. Ada Yonath was the first in the world to pioneer ribosomal crystallography.

Yonath 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Yonath 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Weizmann Institute of Science's Prof. Ada Yonath is one of five women researchers in the world to win the L'Oréal-UNESCO's 2008 Women in Science Award, each worth $100,000. One of the world's leading structural biologists, Yonath, represented Israel and the entire continent of Europe at the sparkling award event held Thursday evening at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Yonath, whose research was scoffed at for years by Israeli and foreign scientists but which has won her the Israel Prize, the Wolf Prize and many others, spent most of her career unraveling the structure of the ribosome, a complex of many components that functions as the cell's "protein factory." She was the first in the world to pioneer ribosomal crystallography against all odds and single handedly, when others couldn't even conceive its possibility. This basic scientific work is being implemented to develop antibiotics to replace those that have lost their potency against increasingly resistant strains of bacteria. The other 2008 laureates are Prof. Lihadh Al-Gazali, of the United Arab Emirates (representing the continent of Africa and the Arab States); Prof. V. Narry Kim of South Korea (for Asia-Pacific); Prof. Ana Belen Elgoyhen of Argentina (for Latin America); and Prof. Elizabeth Blackburn of the US (for North America). At the ceremony, all five signed the L'Oréal-UNESCO Charter of Commitment for Women in Science, affirming their long-term dedication to promote women in science careers. L'Oréal, which makes women's cosmetics and had sales of more than €17 billion in 130 countries last year, set up a foundation to promote women in science and finances the award, which has been presented to 52 women over the last decade. Women constitute 55 percent of the company's workforce. UNESCO is the UN's Economic and Social Council, established in 1945, dedicated to eliminating all forms of discrimination, promoting equality between men and women and developing educational programs in science and a series of academic chairs creating networks of women in science. An interview with Ada Yonath and a description of her work, titled "Former 'village fool' takes the prize," will appear on The Jerusalem Post's Health Page on Sunday.