KHORANA, Har Gobind




Har Gobind Khorana, one of the few Nobel Prize winners to have lived and worked in British Columbia, was brought to the University of British Columbia in 1952 by Gordon M. Shrum [See Shrum entry] who also recruited Lancashire-born Michael Smith. At UBC, Khorana became one of Michael Smith's most significant mentors. The British Columbia Research Council could provide only modest facilities, but offered optimal freedom for research. With the fellowship of Dr. Jack Campbell, who became Head of the Department of Microbiology at UBC, Khoran began to work in the biological field of phosphate esters and nucleic acids with colleagues who included Dr. Gordon M. Tener, a UBC Professor in the Biochemistry Department. He left British Columbia in 1960 to work in Wisconsin. In 1968, Khorana shared a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Americans Robert W. Holley and Marshall W. Nirenberg "for their interpretation of the genetic code and its function in protein synthesis". Michael Smith won a Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1993. Khorana became Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Biology and Chemistry, Emeritus, at MIT. He received his Ph.D in 1948 from University of Liverpool.

[BCBW 2004] "Medicine" "Nobel"


Biographical Information
Nobel Prize press release



Har Gobind Khorana was born of Hindu parents in Raipur, a little village in Punjab, which is now part of West Pakistan. The correct date of his birth is not known; that shown in documents is January 9th, 1922. He is the youngest of a family of one daughter and four sons. His father was a «patwari», a village agricultural taxation clerk in the British Indian system of government. Although poor, his father was dedicated to educating his children and they were practically the only literate family in the village inhabited by about 100 people. Har Gobind Khorana attended D.A.V. High School in Multan (now West Punjab); Ratan Lal, one of his teachers, influenced him greatly during that period. Later, he studied at the Punjab University in Lahore where he obtained an M. Sc. degree. Mahan Singh, a great teacher and accurate experimentalist, was his supervisor.

Khorana lived in India until 1945, when the award of a Government of India Fellowship made it possible for him to go to England and he studied for a Ph. D. degree at the University of Liverpool. Roger J. S. Beer supervised his research, and, in addition, looked after him diligently. It was the introduction of Khorana to Western civilization and culture. Khorana spent a postdoctoral year (1948-1949) at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule in Zurich with Professor Vladimir Prelog. The association with Professor Prelog molded immeasurably his thought and philosophy towards science, work, and effort. After a brief period in India in the fall of 1949, Khorana returned to England where he obtained a fellowship to work with Dr. (now Professor) G. W. Kenner and Professor (now Lord) A. R. Todd. He stayed in Cambridge from 1950 till 1952. Again, this stay proved to be of decisive value to Khorana. Interest in both proteins and nucleic acids took root at that time.

In 1960 Khorana moved from the University of British Columbia, where he had worked since 1952, to the Institute for Enzyme Research at the University of Wisconsin. He became a naturalized citizen of the United States. As of the fall of 1970 Khorana has been Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Biology and Chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Har Gobind Khorana was married in 1952 to Esther Elizabeth Sibler, who is of Swiss origin. Esther brought a consistent sense of purpose into his life at a time when, after six years' absence from the country of his birth, Khorana felt out of place everywhere and at home nowhere. They have three children: Julia Elizabeth (born May 4th, 1953), Emily Anne (born October 18th, 1954), and Dave Roy (born July 26th, 1958).

[From Nobel Lectures, Physiology or Medicine 1963-1970, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1972. This autobiography/biography was written at the time of the award and later published in the book series Les Prix Nobel/Nobel Lectures.]