Tag Archives: Biochemistry

Jew of the Week: Ada Yonath

The Woman Who Revolutionized Biochemistry

Yonath at the Weizmann Institute (Credit: Miki Koren)

Yonath at the Weizmann Institute (Credit: Miki Koren)

Ada Yonath (b. 1939) was born in Jerusalem, the daughter of Polish Zionists that immigrated to Israel in 1933. Growing up in poverty, she found solace in books, and was inspired by the Polish-French scientist Marie Curie. Yonath studied chemistry at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University and earned a Ph.D from the Weizmann Institute in 1968. Her focus was on x-ray crystallography, a technique for visualizing biochemical structures. After postdoc studies at Carnegie Mellon and MIT, Yonath returned to Israel to establish the country’s only protein crystallography lab. In the 1980s, she started developing a new crystallography technique that was initially met with a lot of resistance from the scientific community. Yonath silenced her critics with amazing results, and discovered some of the key mechanisms in the body’s production of proteins. By 2001, she unraveled the mysteries of the ribosome, the structure responsible for producing protein from the body’s genetic code. In addition to this, she discovered how dozens of antibiotics impact the ribosome, contributing tremendously to our understanding of antibiotics and drug resistance. The technique she invented, cryo bio-crystallography, is now standard in top biochemistry labs around the world. In 2009, Yonath was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. That made her the first Israeli woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first Middle Eastern woman to win a Nobel Prize in science, and the first woman to win the Prize in Chemistry in 45 years (and only the fourth overall). Yonath has won a handful of other awards, including the Harvey Prize, the Rothschild Prize, the Wolf Prize, the Albert Einstein World Award of Science, and the L’Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science. Despite being in her 70s, Yonath is still doing very important research in her lab at the Weizmann Institute. Some say she may even be up for a second Nobel Prize! She also hopes to write a novel as soon as she has some extra time. (Click here to see an incredible video of a ribosome working in the body, based on Dr. Yonath’s research.)

Words of the Week

Family is not punishment! When I sit with young people and they say, “You’re a mother and you took care of the kids”, I say: “It’s a privilege.”
– Ada Yonath

Jews of the Week: Louis Lloyd Winter and Bernard Sherman

Barry Sherman of Apotex

Barry Sherman of Apotex

Louis Lloyd Winter (1924-1965) was born in Toronto, the youngest of six children. He studied biochemistry at the University of Toronto, and after graduating with a Master’s Degree, borrowed $10,000 from his father to open his first company in the family garage. There, he would process blood work and pregnancy tests for local med offices, and his business skyrocketed quickly. Seeing that prescription drugs were way too expensive, and many could not afford them, Winter started a generic pharmaceuticals company. By 1959, he had to purchase a whole building for his operations and created Empire Laboratories Ltd. By 1964, it was Canada’s largest pharmaceutical, offered over 100 products, and supplied the US military through a branch in Puerto Rico. The following year, Winter’s life was cut short at the young age of 41 when he had a sudden aneurysm. 17 days later, his wife died of leukemia. The company was taken over by their nephew Bernard Charles Sherman (b. 1942). “Barry” Sherman lost his father when he was just 9, and grew up working for his uncle’s drug company. After graduating from the University of Toronto, then getting a Ph.D in astronautics at M.I.T, he was able to take charge of Empire. By 1974, he sold Empire and instead launched Apotex, growing it to become Canada’s largest generic drug maker. Today, the company ships its products to 115 countries and has branches in biotechnology, medical, and chemical research. Meanwhile, its charitable arm – the Apotex Foundation – has donated over $17 million in free medications. Sherman himself has donated over $50 million to the UJA, as well as a number of other philanthropic causes in the Toronto area and beyond. He is currently Canada’s 7th wealthiest man, and continues to head Apotex with a passion to bring affordable medication to the masses.

UPDATE: Tragically, Barry Sherman and his wife Honey Sherman were found dead in their home on December 15, 2017.

Words of the Week

Wherever I go, I’m always going to Israel.
– Rebbe Nachman

Jew of the Week: Isaac Asimov

Master of Science Fiction

Isaac Asimov: “I am Jewish.”

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Born in Belorussia as Itzhak Yudovich Ozimov, his family immigrated to New York when he was only three, starting a chain of candy stores where he worked. After serving in the US Army, Asimov became a biochemistry professor at Boston University. He wrote his first book in 1950, and would go on to write and edit over 500 titles. His short story Nightfall is considered the greatest science-fiction piece of all time. Fluent in Yiddish, he would continue to speak the language throughout his adult life. Interestingly, he writes critically of his father for not having taught him the Orthodox Jewish way. In the opening of Wandering Stars, he writes: “I attend no services and follow no ritual and have never undergone that curious puberty rite, the bar mitzvah. It doesn’t matter. I am Jewish.”


Words of the Week

The wicked in their lifetimes are called “dead”; the righteous in death are called “living”.
Talmud, Berachot 18