Published: March 1, 2021

Nobel laureate and Distinguished Professor Tom Cech will present a virtual lecture March 17 titled “The Magic of RNA: From CRISPR to Coronavirus Vaccines."

The talk, which is free and open to the public, is the third in a new Distinguished Professors Speaker Series run by the Retired Faculty Association. 

The topic is particularly compelling as people around the world are rolling up their sleeves for the coronavirus vaccine.

Cech’s talk will zero in on the evolution of our understanding of RNA, and how these discoveries have unlocked the exciting medical potential of CRISPR and the RNA-based coronavirus vaccines. CRISPR allows scientists to alter DNA and modify gene function.

Cech describes the coronavirus pandemic as a battle of RNA against RNA: An RNA virus is being fought with RNA vaccines. Like many other viruses, SARS-CoV2 has a genome made of RNA instead of DNA. Our protein synthesis machinery mistakes the viral RNA for RNA produced by our own DNA and uses it to make viral proteins. 

“We couldn’t be more excited to host one of our own Nobel laureates on a topic that is on everyone’s minds as we hit the year mark since the virus first showed up on our campus,” said David Kassoy, founder of the CU Boulder Retired Faculty Association. “Through this series, we aim to demonstrate how our faculty members are positively impacting humanity around the world and helping to solve challenges like COVID-19.”

A Q&A will follow the presentation. 

Cech joined the CU Boulder faculty in 1978. He won the 1989 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his findings that RNA can function as a catalyst.

In January 2000, he moved to Maryland as president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the nation’s largest private biomedical research organization. During that time, he maintained his lab work at CU Boulder, leading his team in the research of ribonucleoproteins. In April 2009, he returned to full-time research and teaching at CU Boulder, where he also served as the first director of the BioFrontiers Institute.

In addition to winning the Nobel Prize, 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) and the National Medal of Science (1995). In 1987, Cech was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and also awarded a lifetime professorship by the American Cancer Society. Learn more about Tom Cech in CU Boulder Today.

 If you go

“The Magic of RNA: From CRISPR to Coronavirus Vaccines” with Nobel laureate Tom Cech

7 p.m. Wednesday, March 17

Register via Zoom

 Learn more

CU Boulder Retired Faculty Association

Tom Cech

Tom Cech