Israeli prof. shares prestigious prize for explaining proteins

Professor Ada Yonath of the Weizmann Institute of Science to receive prize on May 13.

protein structure 88 (photo credit: )
protein structure 88
(photo credit: )
A brilliant female Israeli structural biologist and an outstanding American physicist will share the $100,000 Wolf Prize in Chemistry for their discoveries leading to a unified picture of basic biological mechanisms. In addition, an Italian artist will receive the $100,000 Wolf Prize in Painting and Sculpture. The winners were announced Monday by Education Minister Yuli Tamir, who also chairs the Wolf Foundation Council, which chooses what are considered to be Israel's equivalent to the Nobel Prize. Prof. Ada Yonath, 67, of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, will receive the chemistry prize in the Knesset on May 13 along with Prof. George Feher of the University of California at San Diego. Feher, 82, is to receive the award for his research on photosynthesis, "revealing the basic principles of light energy conversion in biology." Yonath was awarded the prize for her work in understanding the production of proteins. "Her work paves the way to dealing with the crucial issue of drug activity and resistance mechanisms," the committee said. A member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities and the US National Academy of Sciences, Yonath "was the first to discover the unified ribosomal mechanism leading to the production of proteins. She is the first and only person to determine, in an incredibly short period of time, the structures of over a dozen different complexes of antibiotics, to reveal the ribosome-antibiotics binding sites on the molecular level and to provide insight into antibiotics selectivity. Her work paves the way to dealing with the crucial issue of drug activity and resistance mechanisms, thus touching on a central problem in medicine," the international jury stated. A Hebrew University graduate, she received her PhD from the Weizmann Institute in 1968 and has been associated with it since 1974. She previously received the Israel Prize for Chemistry, as well as other Israeli and foreign prizes. Feher "pioneered the structure/function relations of the simplest reaction center in photosynthesis, revealing the basic principles of light energy conversion in biology," said the Wolf Prize jury. After receiving his doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley, he moved to the University of California at San Diego, where he was a physics professor for more than three decades. "Feher's impressive work in research on photosynthesis rests on his extraordinarily vivid imagination and on the sustained discipline with which he forced himself to master the underlying biochemistry in a brilliant and systematic manner. His work is seminal for the construction of synthetic and semi-synthetic molecular energy converters, which may have profound implications in an energy-demanding world," the jury said. Michelangelo Pistoletto, 73, will receive the arts prize "for his ever inventive career as an artist, educator and activist, whose restless intelligence has created prescient forms of art that contribute to fresh understanding of the world." He was cited "for his long and highly committed career and his ongoing ability to come up with new possibilities and to encourage the application of imagination to artistic and social change," stated the international jury in this field. "His career developed from painting to photo-silk screening of life-size images of people on reflective steel, creating environments, performances, film and video art, sculpture with everyday materials and establishing a system for communication between art and every other human activity," the jury stated. The Israel-based Wolf Foundation was established by the late German-born inventor, diplomat and philanthropist Dr. Ricardo Wolf. A resident of Cuba for many years, Wolf became Fidel Castro's ambassador to Israel, where he lived until his death in 1981. Five annual Wolf Prizes have been awarded since 1978, to outstanding scientists and artists.