In Memoriam

Sidney Altman

Sidney Altman, Sterling professor of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology (MCDB) at Yale who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1989 for discovering the catalytic properties of RNA, died on April 5 in Rockleigh, New Jersey, after a long illness. He was 82.

Altman shared the 1989 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Professor Thomas Cech of the University of Colorado at Boulder. The two worked independently, but their research reached the same conclusion.

Their discovery came as a surprise to the scientific community. It had long been believed that all enzymes — the molecules that catalyze chemical reactions — are proteins. Altman and Cech demonstrated that RNA can also function as an enzyme. Altman first made this discovery in 1978 by studying an enzyme taken from the E. coli bacteria which was a combination of a protein and RNA. He found that the enzyme lost its ability to function if the RNA was removed from the protein. Later, he also succeeded in proving that RNA alone had the same ability to function as the intact enzyme. These discoveries opened many new avenues for further research, including investigations into the origins of life.

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Israel Zelitch 

Dr. Israel Zelitch Adjunct Professor in MCDB (1979-) passed away on March 23, 2034 at the age of 98.  Dr. Zelitch was a scientist at The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven for many years after leaving MCDB.  

Born in Winfield, PA in 1924, Zuni received his bachelor’s degree in Agricultural and Biological Chemistry from Pennsylvania State University in 1947 and his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin in 1951. After completion of postdoctoral studies at NYU he became an assistant scientist at The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in 1952. Zuni rose quickly through the ranks becoming Head of the Department of Biochemistry in 1963 and later Head of the Department of Biochemistry and Genetics in 1980. He was named Samuel W. Johnson Distinguished Scientist in 1974. Even after retiring in 1994 Zuni continued laboratory work and remained actively engaged in the activities of the Experiment Station.

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