Thom Cech who has been serving as the President of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) since 2000 announced that he will be stepping down in the spring of 2009 and returning to Colorado. Dr. Cech plans to resume his position as an HHMI investigator at the University of Colorado, where he has been a faculty member since 1978. In 1989 Dr. Cech won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Sidney Altman of Yale University (who just happened to have received his Ph.D. from the University Colorado in 1967) for their discoveries that illuminated the catalytic properties of RNA.
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. And from what I understand the pond was adjacent to the quad on the Boulder campus where the Tetrahymena was fished out of. Below is an embedded satellite view of the famous pond courtesy of google maps - be sure to zoom in on it using the + in the upper-left, located between University Ave. and Pleasant St. (if you are reading this as an email or in your RSS reader you will have to pop over to the site http://CLSDF.com to see the famous pond). This discovery of self-splicing RNA provided the first exception to the long-held belief that biological reactions are always catalyzed by proteins.
It is exciting news for the entire Colorado life science eco-system to have Dr. Cech return home. Stay tuned for more detail on planned activities…
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