John Rinn
Professor • Leslie Orgel Professor of RNA Science • Marvin H. Caruthers Endowed Chair for Early-Career Faculty

John Rinn merges biophysics, chemistry, and genomics in his study of long noncoding RNA (lncRNA) molecules. He works to characterize the noncoding genome and discover novel functional activities of lncRNA pertaining to human health and disease. Dr. Rinn received a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Minnesota and a Ph.D. in biophysics and biochemistry from Yale University. As a graduate student, Rinn was one of the first to discover noncoding RNA molecules that were transcribed from DNA but not translated into proteins. During postdoctoral training at Stanford, Dr. Rinn showed lncRNAs are involved in regulating Hox genes, which are essential in early embryonic development. This discovery was hailed as a landmark paper by Cell and established Dr. Rinn as a pioneer in the field of RNA biology. The noncoding genome was once considered “junk DNA”, but Dr. Rinn’s innovative investigation has brought about a wave of research elucidating novel functions of lncRNA.

Dr. Rinn continued his study of noncoding RNA as a Professor at Harvard University, first in the Department of Pathology and then in the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology. At Harvard, Dr. Rinn honed in on deciphering the structure and molecular functions of lncRNA. The Rinn lab generated knockout mouse models and discovered three lncRNA molecules essential for a mouse’s survival.  Dr. Rinn also discovered an RNA molecule capable of grabbing onto three different chromosomes and drawing them together. His research suggests lncRNA may be the key to the 3-D code of biology, capable of shaping DNA and altering its interactions to produce different phenotypes. Dr. Rinn’s groundbreaking research has solidified the importance of the noncoding genome and opened a new understanding of genetic regulation.

John Rinn was recruited to the BioFrontiers Institute in 2017 as a Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. With BioFrontiers, Dr. Rinn will blend genomic-scale studies with RNA biochemistry to continue uncovering the biological significance of lncRNA. The Rinn lab will pursue collaboration with several faculty members, including Roy Parker (CHEM/BCHM), Robin Dowell (MCDB), and Tom Cech (CHEM/BCHM). Dr. Rinn’s work has been essential in establishing the significance of noncoding RNA, and he has published several high-impact papers in Cell, Science, and Nature. He was named one of Popular Science Magazine’s “Brilliant 10” in 2009 and his work is currently funded by the HHMI and NIH. Dr. Rinn’s pioneering research program will be fundamental in continuing the BioFrontiers tradition of discovery and innovation through collaboration.

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