Prof Venki Ramakrishnan entertains with Grimwade Medal Oration; inspires academics and students in exclusive Q&A session

Prof Venki Ramakrishnan is a cell biologist and group leader at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge UK. His work on ribosomes was recognised with the 2009 Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

He was awarded the 2023 Grimwade Medal, delivering a thoroughly entertaining oration titled “My adventure in the ribosome” at Bio21 Institute in February 2024 in front of a crowded auditorium.

His oration opened with the premise that he expects no-one to learn anything new today!

Prof Ramakrishnan’s lecture drew on his personal, somewhat unconventional, career story and science. It was insightful and inspiring, and at times comedic.

“If the ribosome had been discovered by biochemists it would have been called something completely different like 'polypetide polymers', but because it was discovered by cell biologists it was called something ending with a -some”, Venki says light heartedly before delving into some of the challenges facing the biomedical science world.

To watch the recording, request access here.

Venki was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2009 for his research on the structure and function of ribosomes.

“I first began working on ribosomes as a postdoctoral fellow with Peter Moore at Yale University. By then we already knew how important the ribosome was and the central role it played in molecular biology. A lot of basic facts about the ribosome had already been established, but to get to the next step, understanding its structure and detailed mechanism, seemed intractable because it is such a huge molecular complex (about half a million atoms in human ribosomes). So we started gradually, trying to understand pieces of the ribosome and then complexes of a ribosomal protein with a piece of RNA, before finally tackling the entire 30S subunit and then the whole ribosome. Even after that, we had to get snapshots of the ribosome in different states - catching it in the act of doing various things - to arrive at a more detailed understanding. That is still ongoing.”

Q&A Event

Prof Ramakrishnan also sat for a Q&A, supported by Prof Megan Munsie, presented by Bethany Anderson, Research Fellow (The Stojanovksi Lab) Dept Biochemistry and Pharmacology, and Daniella Hock, Research Fellow (The Stroud Lab) Dept Biochemistry and Pharmacology.

“I think young people are bolder, take risks and should not be taking too much advice from older people but should do what interests them. Perhaps the one thing I'd say is not to waste time doing things you don't find interesting or really care about.”

Biomedical Science students undertaking Bachelors, Masters, Honours and GRs, as well as Early and Mid Career Academics actively participated in the session, and had many great questions for the Grimwade Medallist and Nobel Prize winner, who gave inspiring thoughts and advice.

“Having a good mentor (and collaborators) is extremely important. Science requires a lot of judgement, eg how to choose problems, when to stick to it and when to change either your approach or the problem, and these are not things you can pick up from a book. A good mentor will also introduce you to other people who might help you in various ways, and may also alert you to new findings or techniques.”

The Grimwade medal aims to promote the disciplines of biochemistry and molecular biology within the university and more broadly in Australia. Learn More about the medal, generously funded by the Russell and Mab Grimwade Miegunyah Fund.