The man who formed a part of the team which successfully deciphered the genetic code—the mother of all codes—Har Gobind Khorana was an American biochemist of Indian origins. From the boy who started his primary education studying from a village teacher under a tree to a world-renowned biochemist, his life was one long eventful journey. Even though born to poor parents, his family was very keen that their boy gets a good education. He was always a good student and it was no surprise when he won a scholarship to study chemistry at the Punjab University.
- Har Gobind Khorana was born of Hindu parents in Raipur, a little village in Punjab, which is now part of eastern 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.
- Indian-born American biochemist
Har Gobind Khorana, an organic chemist who specialized in the study of proteins and nucleic acids, shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Robert W. Holley (1922– ) and Marshall W. Nirenberg (1927– ) in 1968 for discoveries related to the genetic code and its function in protein synthesis. In addition to developing methods for investigating the structure of the nucleic acids, Khorana introduced many of the techniques that allowed scientists to decipher the genetic code and show how ribonucleic acid (RNA ) can specify the structure of proteins. Four years after winning the Nobel Prize, Khorana succeeded in synthesizing the first wholly artificial gene. In the 1980s Khorana synthesized the gene for rhodopsin, a protein involved in vision
- Khorana spent a postdoctoral year (1948-1949) at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule in Zurich with Professor Vladimir Prelog. The association with Professor Prelog moulded 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.
- A job offer in 1952 from Dr Gordon M. Shrum of British Columbia (now Chancellor of Simon Fraser University, British Columbia) took him to Vancouver. The British Columbia Research Council offered at that time very little by way of facilities, but there was «all the freedom in the world», to use Dr Shrum’s words, to do what the researcher liked to do. During the following years, with Dr Shrum’s inspiration and encouragement and frequent help and scientific counsel from Dr Jack Campbell (now Head of the Department of Microbiology at the University of British Columbia), a group began to work in the field of biologically interesting phosphate esters and nucleic acids.
- In 1960 Khorana moved 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.