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He grew up in Iowa City, Iowa. In 1966, he entered Grinnell College where he obtained a B.A. in 1970. In 1975, Cech completed his Ph.D. in Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley and in the same year, he entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he engaged in postdoctoral research. In 1978, he obtained his first faculty position at the University of Colorado where he lectured undergraduate students in chemistry and biochemistry, and where he remains on the faculty, currently as Distinguished Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. In 2000, Dr. Cech succeeded Purnell Choppin as president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Maryland. He also continues to head his world-renowned biochemistry laboratory in the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Thomas Cech's main research area is that of the process of transcription in the nucleus of cells. He studies how the genetic code of DNA is transcribed into RNA. In the 1970s, Dr. Cech had been studying the splicing of RNA in the unicellular organism Tetrahymena thermophila when he discovered that an unprocessed RNA molecule could splice itself. In 1982, Dr. Cech became the first to show that RNA molecules are not restricted to being passive carriers of genetic information - they can have catalytic functions and can participate in cellular reactions. RNA-processing reactions and protein synthesis on ribosomes in particular are catalysed by RNA. RNA enzymes are known as ribozymes and have provided a new tool for gene technology. They also have the potential to provide new therapeutic agents - for example, they have the ability to destroy and cleave invading, viral RNAs.
Thomas Cech has a second, very different area of research - that of the structure and function of telomeres, the natural ends of linear chromosomes. He and his research group focus on the assembly, structure and function of telomerase, the enzyme that copies the telomeric sequences. The active site protein subunits of telomerase comprise a new class of reverse transcriptases, enzymes previously thought to be restricted to viruses and transposable elements. Telomerase is an important enzyme in biomedical terms due to the fact that it is activated in 90% of human cancers. Therefore, a drug that would inhibit its activity is much sought after as a cancer chemotherapeutic.
Dr. Cech's work has been recognised by many awards and prizes including: lifetime Professorship by the American Cancer Society (1987),the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize from Columbia University(1988), 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, shared with Sidney Altman) and the National Medal of Science (1995). In 1987, Dr. Cech was elected to the United States National Academy of Sciences and in 1988 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
- Chemical and Engineering News
- Nobel article
- Nobel autobiography
- HHMI profile
- HHMI bio
- HHMI Investigators bio
- The Official Site of Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize
Nobel Prize in Chemistry Laureates
William Lipscomb (1976) • Ilya Prigogine (1977) • Peter D. Mitchell (1978) • Herbert C. Brown / Georg Wittig (1979) • Paul Berg / Walter Gilbert / Frederick Sanger (1980) • Kenichi Fukui / Roald Hoffmann (1981) • Aaron Klug (1982) • Henry Taube (1983) • Robert Merrifield (1984) • Herbert A. Hauptman / Jerome Karle (1985) • Dudley R. Herschbach / Yuan T. Lee / John Polanyi (1986) • Donald J. Cram / Jean-Marie Lehn / Charles J. Pedersen (1987) • Johann Deisenhofer / Robert Huber / Hartmut Michel (1988) • Sidney Altman / Thomas Cech (1989) • Elias Corey (1990) • Richard R. Ernst (1991) • Rudolph A. Marcus (1992) • Kary Mullis / Michael Smith (1993) • George Olah (1994) • Paul J. Crutzen / Mario J. Molina / Frank Rowland (1995) • Robert Curl / Harold Kroto / Richard Smalley (1996) • Paul D. Boyer / John E. Walker / Jens Christian Skou (1997) • Walter Kohn / John Pople (1998) • Ahmed Zewail (1999) • Alan J. Heeger / Alan MacDiarmid / Hideki Shirakawa (2000)<div/> </td></tr>
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