Harry F. Noller
University of California, Santa Cruz
2017 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences
For discovering the centrality of RNA in forming the active centers of the ribosome, the fundamental machinery of protein synthesis in all cells, thereby connecting modern biology to the origin of life and also explaining how many natural antibiotics disrupt protein synthesis.
This is quite overwhelming. The Prize is really a tribute to the effort and passion of the many talented people who have explored the mysteries of the ribosome with me in my lab at UCSC over the past 48 years. My own excitement for science was encouraged by my parents, especially my father, a self-taught mechanical engineer who ended up designing the first (mechanical) calculator with a memory. I was lucky to have teachers like Verna Givens, who bought a microscope for our 6th-grade class with her own modest salary; John Annis at Acalanes High School who held his physics students to the most rigorous standards; the Institute of Molecular Biology in Eugene, where we were shown that science is, above all, a creative pursuit; and remarkable friends who pushed the boundaries in every direction, from jazz to softball to research to race cars. But I am most indebted to my wife and collaborator, Laura Lancaster - my strongest supporter and toughest critic.