Thomas Robert Cech Discovered TERT | Studied Structure Of Telomeres

Thomas Robert Cech – discoverer of catalytic reactions of RNA

Article On Thomas Robert Cech

Biography & Contributions

Thomas Robert Cech was born on December 08, 1947. Robert Cech discovered catalytic properties of RNA and stimulating its own chemical reactions. He got prestigious awards and prizes like Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize, Heineken Prize and Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award in the year of 1988.

In 1989, he shared Nobel Prize with other chemist Sidney Altman, National Medal of Science in the year of 1995, Othmer Gold Medal for outstanding contributions to progress in chemistry and science in the year of 2007. Robert Cech discovered telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT). He studied the structure and replication of telomeres the ends of chromosomes.

Cech's main research area is that of the process of transcription in the nucleus of cells. He studies how the genetic code of DNA is transcribed into RNA. In the 1970s, Cech had been studying the splicing of RNA in the unicellular organism Tetrahymena thermophila when he 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.

Chemical activities of RNA

RNA can catalyze chemical reactions through its ability to fold into complex three-dimensional structures and to specifically bind small molecules and divalent metal ions. The 2'-hydroxyl groups of the ribose moieties contribute to this exceptional reactivity of RNA, compared to DNA.

RNA is not only able to catalyze phosphate ester transfer reactions in ribonucleic acids, but can also show amino-acyl esterase activity, and is probably able to promote peptide bond formation.

RNA is composed of four bases, adenine, guanine, cytosine, and uracil (RNA's equivalent of thymine). These four bases can interact, and certain chemical modifications can create new bases (e.g. pseudouracil, ribothymine, methyl-guanine), increasing the dynamics of interaction. As the bonds between bases can form and be broken, the overall structure assumes a tertiary (3D) structure that is subject to conformational change.

RNA catalysts are called ribozymes. Ribozymes, or catalytic RNAs, were discovered a little more than 15 years ago. They are found in the organelles of plants and lower eukaryotes, in amphibians, in prokaryotes, in bacteriophages, and in viroids and satellite viruses that infect plants.


Telomerase was discovered by Carol W. Greider and Elizabeth Blackburn in 1984 in the ciliate Tetrahymena. Telomerase also called telomere terminal transferase is a ribonucleoprotein that is an enzyme that adds DNA sequence repeats to the 3' end of DNA strands in the telomere regions, which are found at the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes. Telomerase is a reverse transcriptase that carries its own RNA molecule, which is used as a template when it elongates telomeres.

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