Canadian-American molecular biologist who, with Thomas R. Cech , received
the 1989 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for their discoveries concerning
RNA, or ribonucleic acid.
Working independently, Altman and Cech discovered a new role for RNA.
The old belief was that enzymatic activity--the triggering and acceleration
of vital chemical reactions within living cells--was the exclusive domain
of protein molecules. Altman's and Cech's revolutionary discovery was
that RNA, traditionally thought to be simply a passive carrier of genetic
codes between different parts of the living cell, could also take on
active enzymatic functions. This new knowledge opened up new fields
of scientific research and biotechnology and caused scientists to rethink
old theories of how cells function.
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