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Ada Yonath Interview: How did you react when you made your first scientific breakthrough?

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Now I don’t know what you call breakthrough, it depends. Formally, the breakthrough was the structure. But in fact, the first breakthrough was that I could get a crystal. This was only for me, the crystals were small, they were not nice, were not diffracting well – – but they WERE, they existed. And for me, this was a huge breakthrough. The whole world looked at it with a lot of skepticism, because the quality of what I got in the beginning was not convincing to them. It convinced me to continue, but it was not convincing to them. But maybe I should tell you why I did this experiment, because I didn’t tell you earlier, and this is because of the polar bears. You know the bears that hibernate in the winter? There was an idea, or a concept, that ribosomes cannot be crystallized, you cannot make crystals, since they are... ...deteriorating quickly and they are not homogenous. In order to understand structures, we need crystals – so far there is no other way... look at molecules in molecular detail except for crystallography. So people tried to crystallize ribosomes, and failed, and I was aware of it. But then I read that these polar bears, before hibernating, pack their ribosomes orderly in the membranes of their cells. This shows that the bears know how to pack ribosomes orderly. Maybe not perfectly, not producing crystals, but they can put ribosome next to ribosome at least in two dimensions – monolayers. The second thing is to raise the question why it happens. Why do the bears do it? My interpretation was that this is the way they maintain the ribosomes integral. It means they minimize the deterioration during the winter, because otherwise their ribosomes would deteriorate – – this is part of the ribosome behavior. And when they get up at the end of the winter, they wouldn’t have enough ribosomes to... ...produce enough proteins that are needed for their life. While they are hibernating, their metabolism is very low, so they don’t need so much. So I thought that if the bears can pack, and if this is the way to keep the ribosomes from deterioration, all that I have to do is to look for strong ribosomes... ...and ways to assist them to pack orderly and to prevent their deterioration.

Video Details

Duration: 3 minutes and 15 seconds
Country: Sweden
Language: English
Producer: MoleClues TV
Director: Per Thoren
Views: 126
Posted by: locumele on Jan 26, 2010

Nobel Prize winner Ada Yonath interviewed for MoleClues. Entire interview available on

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