Har Gobind Khorana | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Har Gobind Khorana

Har Gobind Khorana, scientist (born 9 January 1922 in Raipur, India; died 9 November 2011 in Concord, Massachusetts). His mother was illiterate and his family impoverished. His first class was in the open on the edge of the Rajasthan Desert. Khorana's brilliance was obvious early and, with scholarships, he earned degrees in organic chemistry at Punjab University. He obtained a PhD at Liverpool (1948) and then spent three years studying proteins and nucleic acids at Cambridge. In spite of his ability, his race precluded him from appointment as a professor in Britain. In search of an outstanding young scientist, Gordon Shrum, a physicist from the University of British Columbia, hired Khorana to do organic chemistry at the British Columbia Research Council in Vancouver in 1952.

Har Gobind Khorana's lecture on total synthesis of a biologically functional gene

Har Gobind Khorana, Alfred Sloan Professor of Biology and Chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Donald S. Fredrickson, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are shaking hands while holding the NIH lecture award. (1978)

(courtesy of the U.S. National Library of Medicine - Digital Collections/101445374/public domain)

Gifted with a photographic memory, relentless drive, high standards and exquisite experimental dexterity, Khorana soon made an international reputation. Attracting a group of brilliant scholars, he succeeded in synthesizing pure ATP, the cellular source of energy. He made co-enzyme A, a complex molecule, important in metabolism. He showed how enzymes break down DNA, studied cyclic precursors of DNA, and discovered how to join building blocks into chains of DNA. Each discovery opened up new vistas for research.

In 1960, Khorana went to the United States where he proved the triplet DNA code and synthesized a gene in a test tube. When he earned a Nobel Prize for medicine in 1968, he pointed out the importance of the Vancouver work and acknowledged three scientists, all at the University of British Columbia.

Selected Works of
Har Gobind Khorana

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