Friday, May 18, 2012

Ochoa enzyme, named for the Spanish-American biochemist Severo Ochoa

The Ochoa enzyme is named for the Spanish-American biochemist Severo Ochoa (1905-1993), who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1959, jointly with Arthur Kornberg,  for their discovery of the mechanisms in the biological synthesis of ribonucleic acid and deoxyribonucleic acid [1-4].

Severo Ochoa was born in 1905 in Luarca, Spain, and died in Madrid in 1993. He worked, researched, taught and inspired others at various prestigious institutions in Spain, Germany and the Unites States [2].

The Ochoa enzyme, polynucleotide phosphorylase, was first isolated from the bacterium Azotobacter vinelandii [3]. The enzyme synthesizes RNA from ribonucleotide triphosphates. The Ochoa enzyme played a critical role in deciphering the genetic code: the American biochemist Marshall Nirenberg and Heinrich Matthaei (a postdoctoral researcher from the University of Bonn in Germany) used the Ochoa enzyme in the enzymatic synthesis of RNA, which they introduced into Escherichia coli [4,5]. Their work resulted  in an understanding of which three-nucleotide codon in a nucleic acid sequence specifies a particular single amino acid. Thanks to the Ochoa enzyme, they achieved the goal of the RNA Tie Club, whose members were corresponding with each other by amino-acid nicknames.

Keywords: history of science, biochemistry, enzymology, synthetic polynucleotides, mRNA sequences, proteins.

References and more to explore
[1] Nobelprize.org - The Official Web Site of the Nobel Prize: The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1959 [www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1959].
[2] Ellen Dubinsky: Severo Ochoa (1905-1993). Washington University School of Medicine, Bernard Becker Medical Library [beckerexhibits.wustl.edu/mig/bios/ochoa.html].
[3] Laurence A. Moran: Nobel Laureate: Severo Ochoa. October 1, 2008 [sandwalk.blogspot.com/2008/10/nobel-laureate-severo-ochoa.html].
[4] Tim Friend: The Third Domain. The Untold Story of Archaea and the Future of Biotechnology. Joseph Henry Press, Washington, D.C., 2007; page 69.
[5] Profiles in Science: The Marshall W. Nirenberg Papers [http://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/ps/retrieve/Narrative/JJ/p-nid/22].

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