Thomas Steitz
Steitz in 2009
Thomas Arthur Steitz

(1940-08-23)August 23, 1940
DiedOctober 9, 2018(2018-10-09) (aged 78)
Alma materWauwatosa High School, Lawrence University, Harvard University
Known forBio-crystallography
SpouseJoan A. Steitz
Scientific career
InstitutionsHoward Hughes Medical Institute, Yale University, University of California, Berkeley
ThesisThe 6⁰A crystal structure of carboxypeptidase A (1967)
Doctoral advisorWilliam N. Lipscomb, Jr.
Other academic advisorsDavid M. Blow
Notable studentsNenad Ban

Thomas Arthur Steitz (August 23, 1940 – October 9, 2018[2]) 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".[3] Steitz also won the Gairdner International Award in 2007[4] "for his studies on the structure and function of the ribosome which showed that the peptidyl transferase (EC was an RNA catalyzed reaction, and for revealing the mechanism of inhibition of this function by antibiotics".[5]

Education and career

Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin,[3] Steitz studied chemistry as an undergraduate at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, graduating in 1962. In June 2010, the University renamed its chemistry building Thomas A. Steitz Hall of Science.[6]

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,[7] Steitz made contributions to determining the atomic structures of carboxypeptidase A (EC[8] and aspartate carbamoyltransferase (EC,[9] 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 during 1967–1970.

Steitz briefly held an assistant professorship at the University of California, Berkeley, but he resigned on the grounds that the institution would not accept his wife Joan into a faculty position because she was a woman.[10]

Both Tom and Joan Steitz instead 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.[11] 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.[4]

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.


Private life

He enjoyed skiing, hiking, and gardening.[13]

It should also be noted that Tom valued a good time. He always looked forward to department happy hours, wine tastings and any other excuse for a party. He hosted many wonderful Halloween parties at his home, always appropriately attire in costume.[14]

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, and two grandchildren, Adam and Maddy.[15] He died on October 9, 2018, of complications during treatment of pancreatic cancer.


See also


  1. ^ a b "Foreign Members". Royal Society. Retrieved 2012-03-20.
  2. ^ Kolata, Gina (10 October 2018). "Thomas A. Steitz, 78, Dies; Illuminated a Building Block of Life". The New York Times.
  3. ^ a b 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Nobel Foundation.
  4. ^ a b Thomas Steitz, Thomas Steitz Lab.
  5. ^ Thomas A. Steitz, The Gairdner 50 Foundation.
  6. ^ "Lawrence To Honor Nobel Prize Winner with Building Renaming Ceremony on Friday". Lawrence University. 9 June 2010. Retrieved 12 January 2013.
  7. ^ Steitz, T. A. and Lipscomb, W. N., "Molecular Structure of Methyl Ethylene Phosphate," J Am. Chem. Soc. 87, 2488 (1965).
  8. ^ Ludwig ML, Hartsuck JA, Steitz TA, Muirhead H, Coppola JC, Reeke GN, Lipscomb WN. The Structure of Carboxypeptidase A, IV. Prelimitary Results at 2.8 A Resolution, and a Substrate Complex at 6 A Resolution. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1967 March; 57(3): 511–514.
  9. ^ Steitz TA, Wiley DC, Lipscomb WN. The structure of aspartate transcarbamylase, I. A molecular twofold axis in the complex with cytidine triphosphate. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1967 November; 58(5): 1859–1861.
  10. ^ Ferry, Georgina (2018-10-30). "Thomas A. Steitz (1940–2018)". Nature. 563 (7729): 36. doi:10.1038/d41586-018-07187-2. ISSN 0028-0836.
  11. ^ "Yale Researches Solve Structure of the Ribosome; Groundbreaking Achievement 'Like Climbing Mount Everest'". YaleNews. 10 August 2000. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  12. ^ Ramakrishnan, V.; Henderson, Richard (2021). "Thomas Arthur Steitz. 23 August 1940—9 October 2018". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 72: 311–336. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2021.0029. S2CID 244731370.
  13. ^ "The Best Job Ever. Reflections On My Time with Tom Steitz, 1985–2018 by Peggy Eatheron". Structural Insights Into Gene Expression And Protein Synthesis. Series in Structural Biology—Volume 12. Singapore: World Scientific. 2020. pp. 29–31. ISBN 9789811215872.
  14. ^ Steitz, Thomas A. (2020). "The Best Job Ever. Reflections On My Time with Tom Steitz, 1985–2018 by Peggy Eatheron". Structural Insights Into Gene Expression And Protein Synthesis. World Scientific. pp. 29–31. ISBN 9789811215872. (quote from p. 31)
  15. ^ "Episode 28 – Thomas Steitz – A Nobel Profession – MIPtalk". Archived from the original on 2011-04-01. Retrieved 2011-04-05.