April 8, 2010

Nobel laureate in chemistry to visit campus April 14

Thomas Cech, whose research team was the first to show (in 1982) that RNA molecules are not restricted to being passive carriers of genetic information but can have an active role in cellular metabolism, will give a public lecture on campus on April 14 (10 a.m., MU Gallery).

Cech shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1989 for this work. He is a Distinguished Professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and director of the Colorado Initiative in Molecular Biology. From 2000 to 2009, he served as the president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in suburban Washington, D.C., and remains an investigator for the institute. He was raised in Iowa City and received his B.A. in chemistry from Grinnell College.

During his talk, "Crawling out of the RNA World," Cech will describe the events leading to the discovery of self-splicing RNA in a single-celled pond organism. He also will describe more recent work on telomerase -- ribonucleoprotein (RNP) enzymes that provide clues about how life "crawled out" of the RNA world to the present situation, in which cell catalysis is carried out mostly by protein enzymes but also by RNP enzymes.