Indian Scientists - Hargobind Khorana
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Indian Scientists> Hargobind Khorana
Hargobind Khorana
Indian Scientists

An American citizen since 1965, Hargobind Khorana was born in India and his lifestyle and culture are Indian. This great scientist was born on January 9, 1922, in Raipur village of Multan district in West Punjab. His father was a village revenue officer. In a village of 100 houses, Hargobind’s father was the only educated person. So it seems Hargobind’s birth date is mentioned differently at different places. It did not seem important then. Some book mentions his birth date as January 1, while some other mentions it as January 2. Some even mention it as February. Such was the condition in this small village. Among four brothers, Hargobind was the youngest. He lost his father when he was still a young boy. After his father’s death, his mother took over the family’s responsibility and educated all the sons. Since there was no school in the village, a teacher from the neighbouring village would come and teach the children under the shade of a huge banyan tree. Hargobind too studied in this primary school amidst nature.

Hargobind was a brilliant child. He completed his primary education from Raipur and Multan, and his secondary schooling from Multan’s DAV High School. He stood second in the matriculation examination. He got 18 marks less than the first placed student, which upset him terribly. The school principal Dinanath consoled him. Hargobind was a clever and intelligent child. The principal too had high expectations from him. For his graduation he joined the DAV College in Lahore. In 1943, he cleared BSc honours with a first class in chemistry from Punjab University. In 1945, he completed MSc from the same college. Meanwhile, the British Government awarded him a scholarship for further studies in England. In 1946, he left for England and registered for PhD at Liverpool University and in 1948, he received the PhD.

Meanwhile, on August 15, 1947, India was partitioned. His native place became a part of Pakistan. So, he and I his family shifted to Delhi. When Khorana returned to India with a PhD degree, the Government of India extended his scholarship for one more year. He went to Zurich in Switzerland for further research and returned after a year. Due to lack of a suitable job, he shifted his attention abroad. He went to England and from 1949 to 1952 he studied and did research as Newfield Research Fellow at Cambridge University. For three years he gpt the opportunity to work with world-renowned scientist Alexander Todd on the structure of living organisms. In the meantime, he came in contact with a lady in Switzerland and married her. When a better opportunity came his way, he moved to Canada and joined the Biochemistry department of the British Columbia University in Vancouver and stayed there till 1960. During this time along with another scientist he researched on coenzymes. This brought him fame internationally. In 1958, the Chemical Institute of Canada gave him the Merc Award. In 1960, another leading Institute there awarded him a gold medal. Since 1958, he served as visiting professor at Rockefeller Institute in America.

After arriving in America in 1960, he joined Wisconsin University in California State. He had now decided to settle here. In 1965, he received American citizenship. He was appointed as professor and joint director at the Institute of Enzyme Research in Wisconsin University. He worked there till 1970. In 1970, Khorana joined as professor of chemistry and biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The research carried out by him and his co-workers in chemistry at Wisconsin University gave a boost to his career. He was interested in unravelling the genetic code. He synthesized each of the 64 nucleotide triplets that make up the code. In 1968, the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine was jointly awarded to Hargobind Khorana, Marshall Nirenberg and Robert Holley. This prize was given for their research on deciphering of the genetic code.

The traits inherited by human beings from generation to generation are known as hereditary characteristics, This science is called ‘genetic science’. Chromosomes play an important role in transferring the characteristics of parents to their children. Human beings, animals or vegetation have cells as units. At the centre of a cell is the nucleus. These cells mainly consist of a chemical better known as DNA (Di-oxyribo Nucleic Acid). DNA is in the form of tissues. These tissues join to form the chromosomes. For hereditary traits chromosomes are very vital.

Khorana made an important contribution towards the analysis of nucleic acid. He created nucleotides from simple chemicals and developed a method of arranging them in a pattern. After he received the Nobel Prize, he also received the American Chemical Society Award and the Gibbs Medal. The Government of India honoured this son of the soil with the Padma Bhushan in 1969. His important researches after the Nobel Prize took him to greater heights. He was honoured with the Conrad A Elvezam professorship in the field of bacteriology. Dr Khorana is the member of America’s National Academy of Science. This is a unique honour. He was invited to give the inaugural address at the seventh International Biochemistry Congress session held in Tokyo.

Khorana’s next major achievement came in 1970, when he announced the synthesis of the first artificial gene. The same year he moved to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where by 1976 his team had made a second gene, which was capable of functioning in a living cell. He was busy with his research group at MIT, which consisted of students from Japan, Germany, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, India and Nepal. More than 15 of them received PhD degrees under his guidance. Many of them completed their training and returned to their homelands to continue research with new teams.

On October 20, 1974, an international conference of physiological scientists was held in New Delhi. More than 1,700 scientists from all over the world participated. During this event, Khorana came to India after a gap of twenty five years. He was given a warm welcome. Many universities honoured him with honorary doctorate degrees. Thereafter in 1983, he again visited New Delhi, to attend the fifteenth International Congress of hereditary scientists.

Despite accepting American citizenship he has great feelings for his country. He continues to be in touch with his brothers and on auspicious occasions does all he can to contribute. By nature he is very polite. He continues to be engrossed in his research even today.