Thomas R. Cech, PhD

Tom Cech

Distinguished Professor, Director Biofrontiers Institute, University of Colorado at Boulder,
Former President of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Nobel Laureate Tom Cech has been on the faculty of the University of Colorado Boulder since 1978. In 2000, he was named president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and remained in the position until 2009. Currently his lab in Boulder investigates the structure and replication of telomeric DNA. A telomere protects the end of a chromosome from degenerating or fusing with another chromosome.

Says Cech of the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome, “The entire mission of the Linda Crnic Institute is important, but I am most involved with the research efforts. Further research of the genes expressed on chromosome 21 will lead to better understanding of Down syndrome, and this better understanding will pave the way to intervention to eliminate its ill effects.”

After receiving his PhD at Berkeley, Cech expanded his knowledge of biology with a postdoctoral fellowship in the lab of Mary Lou Pardue at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1978, Cech and his wife Carol, a fellow Grinnell graduate and biochemist, both joined the faculty of the University of Colorado at Boulder. There, he settled into the work that would eventually overturn conventional wisdom about RNA. Cech shared the 1989 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work with RNA. In addition to this award, Cech has won a number of other 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 US National Academy of Sciences and was also awarded a lifetime professorship by the American Cancer Society.