That Magical Strand, RNA

by Thomas R. Cech

(University of Colorado at Boulder, USA)

 25 April 2024 17:00

 Mendel Lectures take place in Mendel´s refectory in the Mendel Museum Brno

After his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley and postdoctoral research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Cech joined the faculty of the University of Colorado Boulder in 1978. In 1982 Dr. Cech and his research group announced that an RNA molecule from Tetrahymena, a single-celled pond organism, cut and rejoined chemical bonds in the complete absence of proteins. This discovery of self-splicing RNA provided the first exception to the long-held belief that biological reactions are always catalyzed by proteins. In addition, it has been heralded as providing a new, plausible scenario for the origin of life; because RNA can be both an information-carrying molecule and a catalyst, perhaps the first self-reproducing system consisted of RNA alone.

Dr. Cech became a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator in 1988 and Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry in 1990. From 2000-2009, he served as president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the largest private biomedical research organization in the U.S.A. He then returned to full-time research and teaching at the University of Colorado Boulder. Dr. Cech’s work has been recognized by many national and international awards and prizes, including the Heineken Prize of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences (1988), the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award (1988), the Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1989), and the National Medal of Science (1995). Dr. Cech has been elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (1987) and National Academy of Medicine (2000) and is a lifetime professor of the American Cancer Society.

Abstract: We’ve known since 1960 that RNA serves as a messenger, carrying information from DNA to instruct the formation of proteins. But RNA is much more: it can catalyze biochemical reactions, make cells immortal, and direct the editing of the genome itself. Beyond this, RNA “reaches back” to help control what genes are expressed. So this single-stranded daughter of DNA is truly magical.

Lecturer photo

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