Google Doodle Commemorates Biochemistry Pioneer Har Gobind Khorana

By Sameer Rao Jan 09, 2018

Google spotlights Indian-American scientist Har Gobind Khorana in its latest Doodle, which is featured on the homepage today (January 9). Al Jazeera notes Khorana would have turned 96 today. He died from what the Los Angeles Times called unspecified natural causes in 2011.

Vox reports that Indian visual artist Rohan Dahotre illustrated the Doodle, which depicts Khorana surrounded by laboratory equipment. The entire illustration is in greyscale except for what Billboard describes as "the model of DNA" that "streams the top of the artwork, with the inner neucleotides colored in the signature Google blue, red, yellow and green." The nucleotides point to Khorana’s most significant scientific accomplishment: his contribution to the ways that scientists map and understand the human genetic code. 

Before he embarked on this work, Khorana spent his childhood in Raipur, a town that now lies in Pakistan. According to Vox, the budding scientist started his education at a community school in Raipur and earned a scholarship to study chemistry at Punjab University in 1922. His studies took him to England, where he earned a doctorate in organic chemistry at the University of Liverpool. 

Per Al Jazeera, Khorana researched at universities in Switzerland and Canada before moving to the United States in 1960 to work at the University of Wisconsin. His research there focused on how cells interpret genetic code, and he developed part of the code of 64 three-letter codons that we now use to describe DNA.

Scientists Robert Holley and Marshall Niremberg explored similar ways of mapping DNA independently of Khorana and each other. All three men’s work combine into a Rosetta Stone-like template for genetic science. They earned a joint Nobel Prize for physiology and medicine in 1968.

Khorana joined the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1970. He developed the world’s first functioning synthetic gene two years later. Khorana remained at MIT until his retirement in 2007.