June 9, 1903–July 28, 1999
BY RONALD BENTLEY
TO A REMARKABLE EXTENT Sarah Ratner’s career as a biochemist largely paralleled the development of her discipline. She became a graduate student in the early 1930s, when biochemistry was mainly rooted in physiology and organic chemistry; about all that organic chemists knew of proteins was that they contained amino acids. Nucleic acids were even more of a mystery, and the catalytic action of enzymes was an enigma. The chemical structures and modes of action of vitamins and hormones were unclear. When she published her last paper in 1987, biochemistry had come of age.
The discipline of biochemistry developed slowly as new and improved technologies became available after World War II. Beginning about 1950 and continuing for two to three decades there was an astonishing acquisition of knowledge; this period was the golden age of biochemistry. The suggestion of one possible structural arrangement for DNA in 1953 was followed by the development of a new discipline, or perhaps more accurately a collection of disciplines, under the rubric “molecular biology.” To a major extent biochemistry was subsumed as a most important component of molecular biology. Beginning with an organic chem-