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Thomas Cech
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Thomas Cech
Born December 8, 1947 (1947-12-08) (age 73)
Alma mater Grinnell College BA, University of California, Berkeley PhD Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Known for Ribozyme
Awards Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1989)
Scientific career
Institutions University of Colorado, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Thomas Robert Cech (born December 8, 1947 in Chicago) is an American chemist who shared the 1989 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Sidney Altman. They discovered that RNA was a catalyst. Cech discovered that RNA could itself cut strands of RNA, which showed that life could have started as RNA.


Cech also studied telomeres, and his lab discovered an enzyme, TERT (telomerase reverse transcriptase), which helps to restore telomeres after they are shortened during cell division.

As president of Howard Hughes Medical Institute, he promoted science education, and he teaches an undergraduate chemistry course at the University of Colorado.


Cech's main research area is transcription in the nucleus of cells. He studies how the genetic code of DNA is transcribed into RNA. In the 1970s, Cech discovered that an unprocessed RNA molecule could splice itself.

In 1982, Cech became the first to show that RNA molecules are not restricted to being passive carriers of genetic information – they can have catalytic functions and can take part in cellular reactions. RNA-processing reactions and protein synthesis on ribosomes are catalysed by RNA. RNA enzymes are known as ribozymes and are now used for gene technology. They also cut and destroy invading viral RNAs.

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