Thomas R. Cech, RNA, and Ribozymes

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Thomas Cech
Courtesy of
Glenn Asakawa/
University of Colorado

Thomas R. Cech conducted ground-breaking research that ‘established that RNA, like a protein, can act as a catalyst in living cells.'1

'Prior to Cech's research, most scientists believed that proteins were the only catalysts in living cells. In 1982, his research group showed 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 1989, Cech was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.'2

'Subsequent research by Cech and his colleagues … indicated RNA molecules may have wide potential as therapeutic compounds. Several years ago Cech's group developed a technique to "address" therapeutic RNA molecules with chemical signals and send them on cellular missions to destroy harmful viruses.

Cech's work has implications for molecular evolution studies as well. The discovery that RNA can act both as an information-carrying molecule and as a catalyst hints that RNA may have functioned without DNA or proteins in the earliest period of life on Earth. …

Cech came to CU-Boulder in 1978 as an assistant professor of chemistry and in 1983 became a full professor.  He received a bachelor's degree from Grinnell College, Iowa, in 1970 and a doctorate in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1975.'1

'In January 2000, Cech was named president of HHMI, the nation's largest science philanthropy.'2

1 Edited excerpts from Tom Cech - The University of Colorado’s First Nobel Winner
2 Edited excerpts from  Thomas R. Cech, Ph.D., HHMI Investigator

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