In a ceremony and commemorative symposium held at Keio University in Tokyo in November, Thomas A. Steitz, Ph.D., Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale, was awarded the 11th Keio Medical Science Prize.
Steitz, also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, was honored for X-ray crystallography research that in 2000 led to publication of the structure of the large subunit of the ribosome, which is crucially involved in translating instructions contained in messenger RNA (mRNA) into proteins.
Many antibiotics work by interfering with the translation of mRNA by the ribosome of bacteria, but some bacteria develop mutations that change the ribosome’s structure and render the bacteria resistant to treatment. From their crystallographic work, Steitz and collaborators have identified the structural basis of antibiotic drug function and resistance, and he and several Yale colleagues founded Rib-X, a company developing new compounds to combat drug-resistant bacteria.
The Keio award, the only prize of its kind awarded by a Japanese university, recognizes outstanding research achievements in the medical or life sciences, and includes an honorarium of 20 million Japanese yen, or about $173,000.
Steitz has been on the Yale faculty since 1970, arriving directly after completing postdoctoral training at Harvard University and at the Medical Research Council Laboratory in Cambridge, England.
The recipient of numerous awards, Steitz was appointed full professor in 1979 and named Sterling Professor in 2001.