Venki Ramakrishnan is on the scientific staff of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England. He has a long-standing interest in the structural basis of protein synthesis in the cell, which involves translation of genetic information on mRNA by the ribosome. In 2000, his laboratory determined the atomic structure of the 30S ribosomal subunit and its complexes with ligands and antibiotics. This work has led to insights into how the ribosome “reads” the genetic code, as well as into how many antibiotics inhibit the ribosome. In the last twenty years, Ramakrishan’s lab has determined the high-resolution snapshots of the entire ribosome at various stages along the translational pathway, which has led to insights into its detailed mechanism. More recently his laboratory has been applying cryoelectron microscopy to study ribosomes from higher organisms and mitochondria, as well as the regulation of translation. For his work, he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 2003, a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2004, and shared the 2009 Nobel prize in Chemistry.
In addition to his research on ribosomes, Ramakrishnan was president of the Royal Society from 2015-2020, during which time he developed an interest in broader issues such as science policy and public engagement. He is the author of Gene Machine, a frank popular memoir about the race for the structure of the ribosome that discusses both the science behind the discovery and the sociology and personalities involved. Ramakrishnan is currently working on a popular book about the biology of aging and death.