Thomas Robert Cech


Thomas Robert Cech
(1947)

American biochemist and molecular biologist who, with Sidney Altman, was awarded the 1989 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for their discoveries concerning RNA (ribonucleic acid).
Cech attended Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa (B.A., 1970), and the University of California at Berkeley (Ph.D., 1975, in chemistry). After serving as a National Cancer Institute fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1975-77), he joined the Department of Chemistry at the University of Colorado in 1978, becoming a full professor in 1983. Concurrently he was an investigator for the National Institutes of Health from 1978 and for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute from 1988.

Cech and Altman received a Nobel Prize for their independent discoveries that RNA, traditionally considered to be only a passive messenger of genetic information, can also take on an enzymatic role in which it catalyzes, or facilitates, intracellular chemical reactions essential to life. Before their discoveries, enzymatic activity had been attributed exclusively to proteins. Cech was the first person to show that an RNA molecule could catalyze a chemical reaction, and he published his findings in 1982. Altman, whose earlier research had pointed strongly to such a conclusion, conclusively demonstrated such enzymatic activity by an RNA molecule in 1983.

 


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