Institute for Integrative Genome Biology

IIGB Hosts Nobel Laureate Craig C. Mello!

IIGB is hosting a seminar by Nobel Laureate Craig C. Mello on Wednesday, June 24th at 3pm in the Genomics Auditorium in which he will review the place of mankind in the universe, the history of our evolutionary origins, and the biological mechanisms that propagate, from one generation to the next, the information that makes each of us unique. The title of his talk is “A Worm’s Tale: Secrets of Evolution and Immortality." A reception in the building lobby will follow the talk.

Mello, who, together with Andrew Fire, won the 2006 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine, explained that a breakthrough in the understanding of gene expression came with the realization that cells use RNA-guided search engines to identify and regulate both the DNA and other RNAs. First identified in a simple worm C. elegans as “RNA-interference” (RNAi), mechanisms related to RNAi have now been discovered in all domains of life.

In RNAi-related mechanisms, Mellow explained, short pieces of genetic code in the form of RNA serve as search queries allowing the cell to rapidly identify and regulate genes in much the same way a short query is typed into Google. Scientists can now enter synthetic RNA search queries into cellular search engines called Argonautes, and recently CAS9/CRISPR, allowing them to precisely cut any cellular RNA or DNA. The result is an unprecedented revolution in molecular genetics that promises to help unlock the secrets of life, and to speed the discovery of new medicines.

“This talk will describe how organisms use these remarkable mechanisms to program gene expression, and how scientists and physicians are learning to use them as tools,” Mello said. “But, what this talk is really about is the excitement of science and the ever unfolding and deepening mysteries of life.”

Mello is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, holds the Blais University Chair in Molecular Medicine and is co-director of the RNA Therapeutics Institute at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. His lab uses the nematode worm C. elegans as a model system to study embryogenesis and gene silencing.  His collaborative work with Fire led to the discovery of RNAi. Together they showed that exposing C. elegans to double-stranded ribonucleic acid (dsRNA) induces a sequence-specific silencing reaction that interferes with the expression of cognate cellular RNAs. RNAi is related to ancient gene-regulatory mechanisms found in both plants and animals.  RNAi mechanisms are essential to life, and are now employed by scientists to explore the biological functions of genes, study disease processes and design new therapies.

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