UCSC biologist receives lifetime achievement award

Harry Noller, Sinsheimer Professor of Molecular Biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is being honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the RNA Society. The award will be presented in July at the society's annual meeting in Vienna.

In a letter to Noller announcing the award, RNA Society president Anita Hopper wrote that the award recognizes Noller's "many, many seminal contributions to the RNA field." This is the first time the society has given a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Noller's work centers around ribosomes, which carry out protein synthesis in all living cells. The ribosome is a complex molecular machine made up of both protein and RNA, and Noller's lab has elucidated its structure and shown that the RNA component carries out its key functions, including peptide bond formation between the units of the protein product.

Noller has received numerous awards and honors for his work, and his laboratory continues to make major advances in understanding how ribosomes work. Noller and postdoctoral researcher Kurt Fredrick published a paper in the May 16 issue of the journal Science identifying a site within the ribosome that affects a key process called translocation. The genetic instructions for making a protein are copied from chromosomal DNA and carried to the ribosome by messenger RNA. Translocation refers to the ratchet-like movement of the messenger RNA molecule through the ribosome, where the genetic instructions are "translated" to make a protein molecule.

Noller and Fredrick's findings were unexpected because the site identified as important in translocation, called the peptidyl transferase center, is relatively far away from the site where translocation actually takes place. Next, the researchers will try mutating parts of the peptidyl transferase center to see which part of it is involved in translocation, Fredrick said.

The RNA Society, founded in 1993, is a multidisciplinary group, representing molecular, evolutionary, and structural biology, as well as biochemistry, biomedical sciences, chemistry, genetics, and virology as they relate to questions of the structure and function of RNA.