Damon Runyon News

May 1, 2022

It is with sadness that we announce the passing of Damon Runyon alumnus, Emeritus Board Member, and Nobel Laureate Sidney Altman, PhD. He was 82.

Dr. Sidney Altman

Dr. Altman, a molecular biologist at Yale, received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1989 for his discovery that RNA molecules are able to catalyze chemical reactions within the cell. The purported existence of these protein-like “ribozymes” stirred much controversy in the scientific community at the time, as RNA molecules were then understood to be solely carriers of genetic information. For many years, Dr. Altman had a hard time getting invited to conferences or publishing his work. Eventually, as supporting evidence emerged from other labs, his colleagues came around. Ribozymes are now a major research focus in the field of molecular biology.

“The discovery of catalytic RNA has altered the central dogma of the biosciences,” the Nobel Institute declared in their announcement of the award, which Dr. Altman shared with biochemist Thomas Cech.

Dr. Altman received a Damon Runyon Fellowship in 1967, which allowed him to pursue a research career at Harvard under the mentorship of noted geneticist Matthew Meselson. He went on to serve on the Foundation’s Board of Directors from 1990 to 1996.

An out-of-the-box thinker and a steadfast supporter of young scientists, Dr. Altman embodied the Damon Runyon mission and will be remembered fondly.