Ada Yonath wins the L'OREAL-UNESCO award for women in science


Professor Ada Yonath from the Weizmann Institute in Israel has been honoured as the 2008 Laureate for Europe. A long time user of the ESRF, she received the prize for her work involving structural studies of the ribosome protein-synthesising system and the mode of action of antibiotics.

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The L'OREAL-UNESCO award for women in science was presented to Professor Ada Yonath today, 6 March 2008, in a ceremony at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris.

Ada Yonath is Professor of Structural Biology and Director of Helen & Milton A. Kimmelman Center for Biomolecular Structure and Assembly at the Weizmann Institute for Science in Israel. She is widely considered the pioneer of ribosome crystallography. The experiments she conceived, including development of innovative techniques, were decisive for the determination of the structure of ribosomes, the site of protein biosynthesis in living cells. 

The Yonath research team visiting beamline ID23 at the ESRF.  

Ada Yonath surrounded by her research team, while visiting beamline ID23 at the ESRF (Image credit: © Cyril Bruneau).

In the 1980's Ada Yonath and her team were the first to produce ribosome crystals, a challenge that the scientific community believed impossible due to the size, complexity and molecular instability of this huge nucleoprotein complex. Her studies at synchrotron radiation facilities, including the ESRF, led to the determination of the structure of the ribosome in the year 2000.

Ada Yonath developed many innovative methods that are routinely used in light sources around the globe today. One in particular is cryocrystallography, whereby temperatures of -185°C are used to minimise damage to the extremely sensitive ribosomal crystal during structural studies involving X-rays.

Since the early days of the ESRF, Ada Yonath has been a regular visitor to the beamlines. Her protein crystallography studies at the ESRF began more than 10 years ago, when she came to beamline ID02 to carry out ribosome crystallographic studies. More recent experiments were at beamline ID23, where studies of complexes of antibiotics with ribosomal particles have helped the understanding of antibiotic selectivity. Her research has also revealed the precise modes of action of over 20 different antibiotics that target bacterial ribosomes. This has helped identify how bacteria become resistant to antibiotics and will aid the development of new antibiotics that better target the ribosomes of pathogens to avoid the problem of resistance.

The large ribosomal subunit from Deinococcus radiodurans (image courtesy A. Yonath)    

It took the Yonath group more than 20 years to discover the molecular structure of the ribosome. The image shows the structure of the large ribosomal subunit from Deinococcus radiodurans (Image courtesy A. Yonath, Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel).


Each year the L’OREAL-UNESCO awards for women in science recognise five laureates, one from each of the five continents, who have contributed to the advancement of science. The 2008 awards were presented for the area of life sciences. The Laureates receive prizes of 100,000 US$ each. The aim of the award is to encourage the participation of women in scientific research. The Laureates serve as role models for future generations, encouraging young women around the world to follow in their footsteps.


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Top image: Prof. Ada Yonath (Image: © Cyril Bruneau).