Khorana, Har Gobind (1922?-) is an Indian-born American chemist who has spent his life studying the chemistry of the genetic code, the “blueprint” of life. He shared the 1968 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with Robert William Holley and Marshall Warren Nirenberg for his work in interpreting the genetic code and determining the function of genes in protein synthesis.
Khorana was born in the village of Raipur, India, in an area that is now in Pakistan. The exact date of his birth is unknown. After receiving his B.S. and M.S. degrees in chemistry from Punjab University, and his Ph.D. degree in 1948 from Liverpool University in England, Khorana studied with Vladimir Prelog in Zurich, Switzerland, and Alexander Todd in Cambridge, England, both Nobel laureate chemists.
Khorana first came to international attention while working in the chemistry department of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. There, in 1959, Khorana discovered an inexpensive way to synthesize acetyl coenzyme A, a molecule essential to the body's biochemical processing of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
In 1960, Khorana moved his research team to the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he focused on genetics and did groundbreaking work in the field. Most important, he detailed the functioning of nucleotides, the chemical compounds that form the “steps” in the double helix of DNA; mapped out the nucleotides' exact order; and demonstrated that they exist together in patterns of three, or “triplets,” each of which specifies a particular amino acid. He also was able to pinpoint within this structure where protein synthesis began and ended. These discoveries led to his receiving the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine, which he shared with Robert William Holley and Marshall Warren Nirenberg, in 1968.
In 1970, Khorana became the first to synthesize an artificial gene in a living cell. His work became the foundation for much of the later research in biotechnology and gene therapy.