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Sidney Altman (*)

Sidney Altman (born May 7, 1939 in Montreal, Quebec) is a molecular biologist, who is currently the Sterling Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology and Chemistry at Yale University. In 1989 he shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Thomas R. Cech for their work on the catalytic properties of RNA.


He received his bachelor's degree in physics from MIT in 1960, spent 18 months as a graduate student in physics at Columbia University, and then earned a Ph.D. in biophysics from the University of Colorado in 1967.

Nobel prize work

Sidney Altman received his Nobel Prize for discovering the catalytic properties of the ribozyme RNase P. RNase P is a ribonucleoprotein particle consisting of both a structural RNA molecule and one (in prokaryotes) or more (in eukaryotes) proteins. Originally, it was believed that, in the bacterial RNase P complex, the protein subunit was responsible for the catalytic activity of the complex, which is involved in the maturation of tRNAs. During experiments in which the complex was reconstituted in test tubes, Sidney Altman and his group discovered that the RNA molecule alone was sufficient for the observed catalytic activity, meaning that the RNA itself had catalytic properties, which was the discovery that earned him the Nobel prize. Although the RNase P complex also exists in eukaryotic organisms, his later work revealed that in those organisms, the protein subunits of the complex are essential to the catalytic activity, in contrast to the bacterial RNase P.

Personal life

He is married to the former Ann Körner, a writer and scientific editor, daughter of Stephan and Edith Körner. Her books include a complete translation of "Easter Island and Its Mysteries," by Stéphen-Chauvet, which is available on the internet for free [1]. Their son Daniel Altman is the Global Economics Correspondent for the International Herald Tribune and author of "Neoconomy," a book about George W. Bush's gamble with the American economy, and "Connected - 24 Hours in the Global Economy." Their daughter Leah lives with her husband and two daughters in Glasgow, where she works as an independent doula.

He currently serves on the board of advisors of Scientists and Engineers for America, an organization focused on promoting sound science in American government.

Entering the RNA World with Sidney Altman

Chemistry Encyclopedia

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