Sidney Altman, biochemist, molecular biologist, educator (b at Montréal 7 May 1939). His childhood delight in science culminated in his sharing the NOBEL PRIZE in chemistry with Thomas R. Cech in 1989. After starting his scientific career with a BSc in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Altman started graduate work in physics at Columbia University but dropped out when disheartened by the death of a friend. After a brief career in editing and writing, he began a PhD thesis in MOLECULAR BIOLOGY at University of Colorado, moving with his supervisor to Nashville, Tenn, to complete it at Vanderbilt University. Further studies were at Harvard and then with Francis Crick (co-discoverer of the structure of DNA) and others at Cambridge. In 1971, he was hired as assistant professor at Yale, where he advanced to professor, chair of Biology and dean.
Independent, seemingly unrelated work by Altman's research team at Yale and Cech's team at University of Colorado in combination led to the discovery that RNA (ribonucleic acid) could act as both a molecule and a biocatalyst. This overturned the long-held belief that all enzymes were proteins and showed RNA to be more than a mere information carrier. This finding provided a "missing link" as to how life could have evolved in the chemical mix of the Earth's primordial seas and has wide-ranging implications for both basic and applied chemical and genetic research, with particular promise as a tool for fighting VIRUSES. That neither research team anticipated their ultimate finding yields an important example of the necessity of basic research in providing the fundamental background for goal-oriented studies. Other honours include a DSc (Hons) from McGill.