H Gobind Khorana - Telegraph Har Gobind Khorana, who has died aged 89, won a share of the 1968 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine (jointly with Robert Holley and Marshall Nirenberg) for work which showed how proteins are made; he subsequently became the first scientist to synthesise a gene in the laboratory. In 1953 James Watson and Francis Crick had elucidated the double helix structure of DNA, but they did not know how DNA's instructions (for the building of proteins that shape every aspect of our bodies) were implemented. Then, in the late 1950s, Holley showed that small molecules of Ribonucleic acids (RNA, a chemical in cells) called transfer RNAs, perform the role of a "messengers", carrying coding information to the sites where amino acids are synthesised into proteins. Whereas the basic building blocks of DNA are the nucleotides (chemicals) adenosine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), and thymine (T) â€“ in RNA, uracil (U) is substituted for thiamine. Working independently in the early 1960s, Nirenberg and Khorana established that these chemicals combine to form three-letter "words" that represent amino acids, the components from which proteins are made. Using chemical synthesis Khorana established that the genetic code of RNA consisted of 64 distinct three-letter words and also proved that the "words" are always transmitted to the cell in groups of three, called codons, some of which start or stop the manufacture of the proteins. Four years after winning the Nobel Prize, Khorana succeeded in synthesising the first wholly artificial gene â€“ a copy of the yeast gene â€“ using laboratory chemicals. Four years later, he announced that he had succeeded in getting an artificial gene (of the bacterium e coli) to function in a living cell. Later, in the 1980s, he synthesised the gene for rhodopsin, a protein involved in vision. The technology which Khorana pioneered has been central to advances in genetic engineering and the development of the biotechnology industry. Har Gobind Khorana was born to Hindu parents in the village of Raipur in the Punjab region, which is now part of Pakistan. He was uncertain of the exact date, but thought it was probably January 9 1922. His father was a "patwari" â€“ a taxation clerk for the British colonial authorities â€“ and Har Gobind Khorana described the family as "practically the only literate family in the village inhabited by 100 people." After early schooling from his village teacher under a tree he showed an aptitude for science and won a scholarship to study Chemistry at Punjab University, even though he had been too nervous to attend the admission interview. After the Second World War he travelled to England to take a doctorate in Organic Chemistry at Liverpool University, then, after a year's postdoctoral research at the Federal Institute of Technology in Switzerland, he was given a research fellowship at Cambridge University, where he was soon drawn into the emerging field of genetics. In 1952 he was recruited to the British Columbia Research Council in Vancouver to join a group working on nucleic acids. There he developed a new method of synthesising nucleotides, and succeeded in synthesising coenzyme A, a substance involved in converting fats to energy. In 1960 Khorana moved to the Institute for Enzyme Research at the University of Wisconsin, where he did the work that led to his Nobel Prize. He became an American citizen in 1966. In 1970 he joined the department of Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he became Alfred P Sloan Professor of Biology and Chemistry. He retired in 2007. As well as the Nobel, Khorana won the Lasker Award for basic medical research in 1968 and the American National Medal of Science in 1987. He married, in 1952, Esther Sibler, whom he had met during his year in Switzerland. She and a daughter predeceased him. He is survived by their son and by another daughter.