Sidney Altman, who won the Nobel Prize for his work uncovering the enzymatic properties of RNA, has died, the New York Times reports. He was 82.
It adds that Altman, who spend much of his career at Yale University, received the 1989 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for finding that RNA could catalyze chemical reactions in cells. Previously, all enzymes had been thought to be proteins, and Altman's discovery "upended one of the central tenets of biology," the Times writes. Altman shared the prize with Thomas Cech of the University of Colorado, who independently came to the same conclusion.
The Times notes that the findings also suggested an answer to the question of which biomolecule, DNA or protein, came first — that RNA may have actually been first. The discovery of catalytic RNA "has already had a profound influence on our understanding of how life on earth began and developed," the Nobel committee said in 1989.
Altman also served as the chair of the molecular, cellular, and developmental biology department at Yale and was dean of Yale College from 1985 to 1989, according to the Washington Post.
"As someone who was himself a great reader and a beautiful writer, and widely knowledgeable, [Altman] believed non-scientists should have an understanding of science, and that scientists would benefit by having a richer understanding of the humanities, arts, and social sciences," Yale President Peter Salovey says in a statement.