Ochoa, Severo


Ochoa, Severo
born Sept. 24, 1905, Luarca, Spain
died Nov. 1, 1993, Madrid

Spanish-born U.S. molecular biologist.

He received his M.D. and subsequently studied in Germany and Britain before immigrating to the U.S. in 1941, where he taught principally at New York University. In 1955, while researching high-energy phosphates, he discovered an enzyme in bacteria that enabled him to synthesize RNA. The enzyme normally breaks down RNA, but in a test tube it runs its natural reaction in reverse. It has been valuable in enabling scientists to understand and recreate the process whereby the hereditary information contained in genes is translated into enzymes that determine each cell's functions and character. With Arthur Kornberg he received a 1959 Nobel Prize.

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▪ 1994

      Spanish-born molecular biologist (b. Sept. 24, 1905, Luarca, Spain—d. Nov. 1, 1993, Madrid, Spain), was co-winner of the 1959 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his work in artificially synthesizing RNA, genetic material essential to the translation into protein of the hereditary information contained in genes. Ochoa shared the prize with Arthur Kornberg, who had synthesized DNA. Ochoa graduated from the University of Málaga, Spain, at the age of 16 and entered the University of Madrid's medical school at age 17. After earning an M.D. degree in 1929, he worked for two years at the laboratory of Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Otto Meyerhof. He briefly served (1935-36) as head of the physiology research division at the medical school of the University of Madrid but left that post because he felt that research opportunities in Spain would be hindered by the civil war. He worked at various European universities before emigrating to the U.S. in 1941. Ochoa joined the staff of New York University in 1942, becoming chairman of the biochemistry department in 1954. While conducting research on high-energy phosphates in 1955, he made an accidental discovery. He found that the bacterial enzyme that he called polynucleotide phosphorylase was able to synthesize RNA from its chemical building blocks, instead of breaking down the molecule as expected; he was then able to create molecules of artificial RNA. It was for this groundbreaking work that Ochoa received the Nobel Prize. As research continued, it was confirmed that the enzyme Ochoa discovered did indeed break down RNA except under specific laboratory conditions, when the enzyme's natural reaction ran in reverse. From the early 1970s he was associated with the Autonomous University of Madrid and, after leaving New York University in 1974, with the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology in Nutley, N.J. (1974-85).

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▪ Spanish-American biochemist
born Sept. 24, 1905, Luarca, Spain
died Nov. 1, 1993, Madrid

      biochemist and molecular biologist who received (with the American biochemist Arthur Kornberg (Kornberg, Arthur)) the 1959 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for discovery of an enzyme in bacteria that enabled him to synthesize ribonucleic acid (RNA) (RNA), a substance of central importance to the synthesis of proteins by the cell.

      Ochoa was educated at the University of Madrid, where he received his M.D. in 1929. He then spent two years studying the biochemistry and physiology of muscle under the German biochemist Otto Meyerhof at the University of Heidelberg. He also served as head of the physiology division, Institute for Medical Research, at the University of Madrid (1935). He investigated the function in the body of thiamine (vitamin B1) at the University of Oxford (1938–41) and became a research associate in medicine (1942) and professor of pharmacology (1946) at New York University, New York City, where he became professor of biochemistry and chairman of the department in 1954. From 1974 to 1985 he was associated with the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology; thereafter he taught at the Autonomous University of Madrid. Ochoa became a U.S. citizen in 1956.

      Ochoa made the discovery for which he received the Nobel Prize in 1955, while conducting research on high-energy phosphates. He named the enzyme he discovered polynucleotide phosphorylase. It was subsequently determined that the enzyme's function is to degrade RNA, not synthesize it; under test-tube conditions, however, it runs its natural reaction in reverse. The enzyme has been singularly valuable in enabling scientists to understand and re-create the process whereby the hereditary information contained in genes is translated, through RNA intermediaries, into enzymes that determine the functions and character of each cell.

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Universalium. 2010.

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  • Ochoa,Severo — O·cho·a (ō chōʹə), Severo. 1905 1993. Spanish born American biochemist. He shared a 1959 Nobel Prize for work on the biological synthesis of nucleic acids. * * * …   Universalium

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