Nobel Laureate Thomas Cech Delivers 2015 Aaron J. Shatkin Lecture

Dr. Thomas R. Cech, Distinguished Professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, Director of the University of Colorado BioFrontiers Institute, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, was raised and educated in Iowa, earning his B.A. in chemistry from Grinnell College in 1970. He obtained his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, and then engaged in postdoctoral research in the department of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1978, he joined the faculty of the University of Colorado Boulder, where he became a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator in 1988 and Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry in 1990.

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. Thus RNA was not restricted to being a passive carrier of genetic information, but could have an active role in cellular metabolism. This discovery of self-splicing RNA provided the first exception to the long-held belief that biological reactions are always catalyzed by proteins. In addition, it has been heralded as providing a new, plausible scenario for the origin of life; because RNA can be both an information-carrying molecule and a catalyst, perhaps the first self-reproducing system consisted of RNA alone.

In January 2000, Dr. Cech moved to Maryland as president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which is the nation’s largest private biomedical research organization. In addition, HHMI has an $80 million/year grants program that supports science education at all levels (K-12 through medical school) and international research.

In April 2009, Dr. Cech returned to full-time research and teaching at the University of Colorado Boulder, where he also directs the BioFrontiers Institute. Dr. Cech's work has been recognized by many national and international awards and prizes, including 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), and the National Medal of Science (1995). In 1987, Dr. Cech was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and also awarded a lifetime professorship by the American Cancer Society.

The 2015 Aaron J. Shatkin Lecture, "Crawling Out of the RNA World: Noncoding RNAs and Their Protein Partners", was held on Wednesday, March 25 at 1:00PM in the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School Main Lecture Hall, adjacent to CABM. Attendees were invited to a reception in the Great Hall immediately following the lecture.

The Endowed Aaron J. Shatkin Lectureship

To recognize the scientific achievements and the excellence in science and education fostered by CABM founding director, Aaron Shatkin, an endowed annual lectureship was established in his name and announced at the 25th Anniversary CABM Symposium in October 2011. Dr. Shatkin attended the inaugural lecture, delivered by Dr. Harold Varmus in April 2012.

CABM appreciates the tremendous support expressed for the Aaron J. Shatkin Lectureship and extends our warmest thanks to friends, colleagues and donors to the fund. With your support, the Shatkin Lecture has become a highly anticipated event on campus each spring.

To contribute to the lectureship fund, please visit the Aaron J. Shatkin Lectureship Fund page.

Past Lectures

Dr. Joseph L. Goldstein and Dr. Michael S. Brown: 'A Century of Cholesterol Research: From Plaques to Genes to Statins'

Dr. David Baltimore: 'A microRNA is a Guardian of the Health of Hematopoietic Stem Cells'

Dr. Harold Varmus: 'Good Questions Drive Good Science'