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Thomas A. Steitz

Thomas A. Steitz American biochemist

American biochemist
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro American biochemist
A.K.A. Thomas Arthur Steitz
Countries United States of America
Occupations Biologist Biochemist Molecular biologist Chemist Crystallographer Physicist Professor Educator
Gender male
Birth 23 August 1940 (Milwaukee)
Death 9 October 2018 (Branford)
Star sign VirgoVirgo
Residence United States of America
Spouse: Joan A. Steitz
Education Harvard University, Lawrence University, Wauwatosa East High School
The details

Thomas Arthur Steitz (August 23, 1940 – October 9, 2018) was an American biochemist, a Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale University, and investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, best known for his pioneering work on the ribosome.

Steitz was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry along with Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Ada Yonath "for studies of the structure and function of the ribosome". Steitz also won the Gairdner International Award in 2007 "for his studies on the structure and function of the ribosome which showed that the peptidyl transferase was an RNA catalyzed reaction, and for revealing the mechanism of inhibition of this function by antibiotics".

Education and career

Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Steitz studied chemistry as an undergraduate at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, graduating in 1962. While there he was a member of the fraternity, Delta Tau Delta, the Delta Nu chapter. In June 2010, the University renamed its chemistry building Thomas A. Steitz Hall of Science.

He received a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology from Harvard University in 1966 where he worked under the direction of subsequent 1976 chemistry Nobel Prize winner William N. Lipscomb, Jr. While at Harvard, after the training task of determining the structure of the small molecule methyl ethylene phosphate, Steitz made contributions to determining the atomic structures of carboxypeptidase A and aspartate carbamoyltransferase, each the largest atomic structure determined in its time.

Steitz did postdoctoral research as a Jane Coffin Childs Postdoctoral Fellow at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology at the University of Cambridge during 1967–1970.

Steitz started an assistant professorship at the University of California, Berkeley, but soon resigned, on the grounds that the institution would not accept his wife Joan into a faculty position because she was a woman.

Both Tom and Joan Steitz joined the Yale faculty in 1970, where he continued to work on cellular and structural biology. Steitz and Peter Moore determined the atomic structure of the large 50S ribosomal subunit using X-ray crystallography, and published their findings in Science in 2000. In 2009, Steitz was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his ribosome research.

He was also a Macy Fellow at the University of Göttingen during 1976–1977 and a Fairchild Scholar at the California Institute of Technology during 1984-1985.

Steitz was also one of the founders of a company, Rib-X Pharmaceuticals, now Melinta Therapeutics for the development of new antibiotics based on the ribosome.


  • Nobel Prize in Chemistry (2009)
  • Elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (ForMemRS) in 2011

Private life

Steitz was married to Joan A. Steitz, a distinguished molecular biologist who is also a Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale. He lived with her in Branford, Connecticut and had one son, Jon. He died on October 9, 2018 of complications during treatment of pancreatic cancer.

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