Tuesday’s Google Doodle honors the pioneering biochemist and Nobel Laureate.
Original Image by Rohan Dahotre/Google as it appears in the article in Vox
Our understanding of how genes shape us owes much to the work of Har Gobind Khorana, the Indian-American biochemist celebrated in Tuesday’s Google Doodle on what would have been Khorana’s 96th birthday. Khorana, depicted in the doodle by Bangalore-based illustrator Rohan Dahotre, shared the 1968 Nobel Prize in physiology/medicine with Robert Holley and Marshall Nirenberg “for their interpretation of the genetic code and its function in protein synthesis.”
Working independently of each other, the researchers mapped out what’s now the central dogma of biology — that information is stored in DNA, a genetic instruction manual, and then transcribed into RNA, which in turn is translated into the language of proteins.
The world-renowned scientist’s illustrious career blossomed from humble roots. Uncertain of his own birth date (he guessed it was January 9), Khorana was the fifth child born to a Hindu family in 1922 in Raipur, a 100-person village in the Punjab region of what is now Pakistan.
He started his education at a village school that met under a tree and quickly demonstrated an aptitude for science, tempered with humility. He received a scholarship to study chemistry at Punjab University in Lahore, but he was too shy to attend the mandatory admissions interview and considered majoring in English instead.
Khorana did stints in research institutions in Switzerland and Canada before landing at the Institute for Enzyme Research and the University of Wisconsin, Madison. There, he decoded how cells read the language of RNA written in structures represented by the letters A, C, U, and G. He did this by using enzymes to create sequences of these letters. Arranging them into distinct patterns, he and other scientists found that the genetic code comprised 64 three-letter “words,” known as codons.
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Khorana became a US citizen in 1966 and faculty member at MIT in 1970, retiring in 2007.
Despite his accomplishments, Khorana’s friends described him as a modest man who avoided publicity. Nonetheless, he maintained his scientific curiosity until the end. RajBhandary wrote that three days before Khorana died, “I was by his hospital bed and we talked about glucose and the brain.”