Thomas Cech


Contributions to Science

In 1977 Philip Sharp discovered non- coding DNA (introns). In 1982 Cech started to investigate how these "redundant" sequences could be removed from the RNA molecule from the DNA template. Cech started to search for the protein enzyme that was responsible for taking introns from RNA molecules. He worked with rRNA (ribosomal RNA) Cech assumed that the RNA itself held the protein enzyme responsible. To eliminate this possibility he synthesized his own pre-rRNA from a recombinant DNA template. The result was a viable but artificial rRNA, which were never was in contact with a cell, and so it couldn't possibly have any cellular splicing enzymes. The introns were still removed. In 1982 Cech concluded RNA must be self- splicing. It was like and enzyme in catalyzing a specific reaction (very fast) but unlike and enzyme it operated on itself. To mark the difference cech proposed the name 'ribozyme'.

As you can see, he has somewhat of a happy spirit!


In 1982 he experimented with the protozoa Tetrahymena thermophilia, where he discovered that RNA could be its own catalyst, and have its own chemical reactions. Until that point, scientist believed that RNA was just a carrier of genetic information. He continued to double-check his research until he could officially prove that his discoveries were correct. and in 1989 Cech shared the Nobel Prize for Chemistry with Sidney Altman.