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New Vistas Series: Little Machines Made of RNA

New Vistas Series: Little Machines Made of RNA

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The New York Academy of Sciences

Presented By

Presented by the New York Academy of Sciences


Nobel Laureate Thomas Cech hosts an evening with two researchers whose work focuses on the functions of RNA in the cell.

The New Vistas Lecture Series invites highly accomplished scientists to serve as hosts for an evening of "Science at the Frontiers." Each evening will feature talks by two up-and-coming scientists whose work has been identified by the host as exceptionally worthy of the spotlight.

Hijacking The Ribosome: Protein Synthesis By Viruses and Cells
Jennifer A. Doudna, University of California, Berkeley

The initiation of protein synthesis is a highly regulated process requiring recruitment and correct positioning of ribosomes on mRNA templates. We are investigating how initiation occurs on eukaryotic ribosomes, either through the actions of initiation factor proteins or via internal ribosome entry site RNAs (IRESs) that direct ribosomes to the translational start codon without requiring most initiation factors. Cellular IRESs are thought to play crucial roles in adaptation to environmental stresses that inhibit most protein synthesis. Recent results in yeast and human systems will be discussed.

Turning mRNA on: Regulation of Gene Expression by Riboswitches
Robert T. Batey, University of Colorado, Boulder

A recently discovered form of RNA-mediated genetic regulation, called a riboswitch, is an element found at the 5'-end of mRNAs that directly binds cellular metabolites to control gene expression without the assistance of proteins. We are working on revealing the atomic-resolution details of how these RNA elements are able to specifically bind small molecule ligands including purines, cofactors, and amino acids. This is accomplished using highly structured RNA motifs that rival proteins in both complexity and specificity. I will also discuss new insights into how these RNAs use ligand-induced structural changes to direct formation of downstream secondary structures involved in regulation of expression of the mRNA.

Speaker Bios

Dr. Doudna is Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. She received her B.A. degree in biochemistry from Pomona College and her Ph.D. degree from Harvard University, working in the laboratory of Jack Szostak, with whom she also did postdoctoral research. She next went to the University of Colorado as a Lucille P. Markey scholar and postdoctoral fellow with Thomas Cech. Dr. Doudna has also been a Donaghue Young Investigator, a Searle scholar, and a Beckman Young Investigator, and she is a former fellow of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. She received the Johnson Foundation Prize for innovative research, the National Academy of Sciences Award for initiatives in research, the Alan T. Waterman Award from the National Science Foundation, and the Eli Lilley Award in biological chemistry from the American Chemical Society. Dr. Doudna is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Robert Batey is an associate professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Colorado, Boulder since 2001. He received a B.S. in Chemistry and in Biological Sciences from the University of California, Irvine in 1990 and his Ph.D. in Biology from MIT in 1997 working with Prof. Jamie Williamson on understanding protein recognition of ribosomal RNA and its relationship to ribosome assembly. Before joining the faculty at CU Boulder, he worked in the Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale University as a Jane Coffin Childs postdoctoral fellow with Prof. Jennifer Doudna. There, he worked on the structure of a ribonucleoprotein complex, the signal recognition particle, involved in protein translocation across and into cellular membrane