Google honors the Indian-American biochemist, Har Gobind Khorana with a doodle for what would have been his 96th birthday. He was the fifth child born into a Hindu family in 1922. Khorana was actually unaware of his actual birthday, but he guessed it was January 9.

Banglore-based illustrator Rohan Dahotre created the doodle honoring Khorana. Dahotre cleverly included the scientist’s research into his artwork by incorporating the A, C, G, and U nucleobases of DNA, which Khorana discovered makes up our genetic code. Depending on your geographic location you may see a different doodle, but the Google Doodle can be viewed across most countries like the United States, England, Canada, Argentina, Peru, Australia, Japan, and Sweden.

The 1968 Nobel Prize winner shaped our understanding of genetic codes and nucleotides with his work in physiology and medicine. Khorana grew up in Raipur, a village in the region of Punjab that is now a part of Pakistan. His father, a clerk, taught him and his siblings to read and write, which was unusual for the small town he called home. Khorana’s love of science brought him to Punjab University in Lahore, Pakistan on a scholarship where he earned an undergraduate degree and masters degree in chemistry graduating in 1945. He later went on to the University of Liverpool in England, on a scholarship, for his doctorate in organic chemistry, which he completed in 1948.

Khorana’s career and education took him to institutions in Switzerland and Canada. He finally settled at the Enzyme Research Institute at the University of Wisconsin in 1960 where he decoded how cells interpreted DNA in structures using the letters A, C, U, and G. He created sequences of enzymes with the letters discovering the 64 three-letter codons, or “words,” that made up our genetic code. The codons were instructions for arranging basic unit of proteins known as amino acids.

He wrote the dictionary for interpreting DNA and protein synthesis and changed the scientific world’s understanding of all living things.

His work won him the Nobel Prize in 1968, which he shared with Robert Holley and Marshall Nirenberg, independent researchers who also deciphered the information stored in DNA, RNA, and proteins. With their phenomenal work in the field, Khorana and Nirenberg also won the Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research and the National Medal of Science in 1968.

Khorana not only deciphered the genetic code. In 1972, he was recognized for developing the first synthetic gene.  The discovery was a giant leap towards launching the field of biotechnology and gave scientists the fundamentals of genetic engineering.

Khorana was not just a trailblazer in interdisciplinary research, but a powerful influence on his students. Michael Smith, a former student, followed in his mentor’s footsteps also receiving a Nobel Prize (1993) for his work in developing artificial mutations in DNA.

Between his research and recognition, Khorana got married to the Esther Elizabeth Sibler, had 3 children, and officially became a U.S. citizen in 1966. He went on to teach at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) from 1970 to his retirement in 2007.

Khorana passed away in 2011 at the age of 89 and is survived by his two children, Julia and Dave.

 

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