The 83rd Joseph Henry Lecture
A Worm's Tale: Secrets of Evolution and Immortality
Everything alive today shares a common ancestry of nearly 4 billion years duration. Humans, even scientists, cannot conceive or understand the implications of this timescale! Consequently, we always, always underestimate living things. Recent investigations have begun to reveal the remarkable sophistication of the "information technology" inside all organisms. This talk will review the place of mankind in the universe, the amazing history of our evolutionary origins, and the remarkable biological mechanisms that propagate, from one generation to the next, the information that makes each of us unique.
A breakthrough in the understanding of gene expression came with the realization that cells use RNA-guided search engines to identify and regulate both the DNA and other RNAs. First identified in a simple worm C. elegans as "RNA-interference" (RNAi), mechanisms related to RNAi have now been discovered in all domains of life. In RNAi-related mechanisms short pieces of genetic code in the form of RNA serve as search queries allowing the cell to rapidly identify and regulate genes in much the same way you type a short query into Google.
Scientists can now enter synthetic RNA search queries into cellular search engines called Argonautes, and recently CAS9/CRISPR, allowing them to precisely cut any cellular RNA or DNA. The result is an unprecedented revolution in molecular genetics that promises to help unlock the secrets of life, and to speed the discovery of new medicines.
This talk will describe how organisms use these remarkable mechanisms to program gene expression and how scientists and physicians are learning to use them as tools. But, what this talk is really about is the excitement of science and the ever unfolding and deepening mysteries of life.
Craig C. Mello
Nobel Prize, Medicine or Physiology, 2006
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Blais University Chair in Molecular Medicine
Co-director, RNA Therapeutics Institute
University of Massachusetts Medical School
Meeting abstract and speaker bio