Har Gobind Khorana

Scientist Spotlight 

April, 2022 by Afrida Rahman-Enyart, PhD.

In honor of DNA Day and the observed 100th birthday of the pioneering biochemist who uncovered the genetic code, our first “Scientist Spotlight” focuses on Dr. Har Gobind Khorana (image, left). In 1968, along with Marshall W. Nirenberg and Robert W. Holley, Khorana won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the groundbreaking discovery that connected DNA to protein synthesis.  

 However, Khorana’s arduous journey that led him to becoming a Nobel Prize-winning scientist makes his story even more inspiring. Khorana battled poverty at a young age, not even owning a pencil until age 6 and getting his initial years of schooling under a tree. Persevering through these hardships, Khorana went on to receive his PhD in organic chemistry from the University of Liverpool in 1948. Khorana eventually secured a fellowship at University of Cambridge where he used the chemical N,N’-Dicyclohexylcarbodiimide (DCC) to assemble and dissemble strings of amino acids and nucleotides. From there, Khorana established his own laboratory, first at the University of British Columbia and then moving to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Khorana continued utilizing DCC to synthesize DNA sequences and eventually introduced them to cellular elements which translated the DNA into amino acids and partial proteins. These findings were monumental as they gave rise to our understanding of codons and how the order of nucleotides controls protein synthesis. Khorana continued his research and eventually created the first synthetic gene.    

Although Khorana’s work was groundbreaking, racism obstructed his recognition, and he was often neglected by authors and interviewers. Khorana also faced racial slurs against himself and his mixed-race family throughout his career and suffered from discrimination at work where he was paid less than his white colleagues. Khorana’s determination and dedication led him on a path to becoming one of the most influential biochemists, and it is finally time to celebrate all his achievements. Click here to read more about Dr. Har Gobind Khorana.    


  1. Gobind Khorana – Biographical - NobelPrize.org. Retrieved April 11, 2022, from https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/medicine/1968/khorana/biographical/
  2. Sarkar, S. (2022, April 7). Remembering Har Gobind Khorana, the chemist who overcame poverty to win the nobel prize Retrieved April 11, 2022, from https://scroll.in/article/1021231/remembering-har-gobind-khorana-the-chemist-who-overcame-poverty-to-win-the-nobel-prize

Dr. Har Gobind Khorana: Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the groundbreaking discovery that connected DNA to protein synthesis.

April 2022