RNA Biology: Beyond the Central Dogma


Dr. Elena Conti

Elena Conti studied chemistry at the University of Pavia in Italy and received her Ph.D. in 1996 from the Faculty of Physical Sciences at Imperial College in London. For her post-doctoral studies, she joined the laboratory of John Kuriyan at the Rockefeller University in New York, where she worked on the mechanisms of nuclear import. In 1999, Elena Conti established her own research group at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, concentrating on the mechanisms of nuclear export. Her research developed to tackle how RNA export is connected to previous steps of RNA maturation and to subsequent steps of RNA surveillance and turnover. Specifically, her group has been studying the mechanisms of nonsense-mediated mRNA decay, an mRNA quality-control pathway that in mammalian cells depends both on splicing and translation. A second focus has been the mechanisms of RNA degradation by the exosome complex. To obtain molecular insights into these biological processes, her group uses a combination of structural biology, biochemistry and biophysical approaches. Since 2007, Conti has been at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Munich, where she is the head of the Structural Cell Biology Department.

Dr. Howard Y. Chang

Howard Y. Chang M.D., Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Dermatology at Stanford University School of Medicine and Early Career Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Chang received his A.B. degree from Harvard College, his Ph.D. in Biology from MIT with Prof. David Baltimore, and his M.D. from Harvard Medical School. He complete Dermatology residency at Stanford University and postdoctoral fellowship with Prof. Patrick Brown, and joined the faculty in 2004. His research addresses how individual cells know where they are located in the human body, which is important in normal development and in cancer metastasis. Chang discovered that a new class of genes, termed long noncoding RNAs, can control gene activity throughout the genome, illuminating a new layer of biological regulation. Chang's honors include the Damon Runyon Scholar Award, American Cancer Society Research Scholar Award, California Institute for Regenerative Medicine New Faculty Award, elected membership to the American Society for Clinical Investigation, the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise, the CERIES Award, and the Alfred Marchionini Research Prize.

Dr. Robert B. Darnell

Robert B. Darnell, M.D., Ph.D., is the Robert and Harriet Heilbrunn Professor of Cancer Biology at Rockefeller University in New York City and the Director for Science Programs at the Center for Clinical and Translational Research for the Rockefeller University Hospital, where he is also Senior Physician. In addition, he is an Attending Neurologist at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, also located in New York City. Dr. Darnell is an Investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and a leading expert in the study of paraneoplastic neurologic syndromes, a group of rare disorders triggered by an immune system response to common cancers. He pioneered the development of new methods to study RNA regulation in the brain, and his research has led to the discovery of neuron-specific systems for regulating RNA. His work has resulted in several awards, including the Derek Denny-Brown Young Neurological Scholar Award and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund Clinical Scientist Award in Translational Research, and he holds several patents and Investigational New Drug applications. Dr. Darnell was elected in 2010 as member of the Institute of Medicine and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and currently serves on the Board of Scientific Councilors of the Jackson Laboratory and the NINDS Advisory Council.

Dr. Witold Filipowicz

Witold Filipowicz M.D., Ph.D., group leader at the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research (FMI) of the Novartis Research Foundation. Dr. Filipowicz, trained initially in medicine, joined the FMI in 1984. At the same time he is Adjunct Professor at the University of Basel and Professor of Biochemistry at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. Remaining true to his long-standing interests, he and his team focus today on the mechanism and biological function of RNAi and miRNAs and how these contribute to development and tissue-specific gene expression. As a pioneer in RNA research, he has studied this molecule long before the recent excitement around RNA interference (RNAi), microRNAs (miRNAs), and RNA's newly defined role in gene regulation arose. His results, synergizing with others in the field, not only paved the way for a new view of the function of RNA in the cell, but laid the groundwork for harnessing RNA-driven processes for biomedical purposes. In the last couple of years, in particular, his characterization of human Dicer, the protein catalyzing the first step in RNAi, and his work on the function and metabolism of miRNAs, have demonstrated that small RNA molecules play a key role in gene regulation. Bacterium Escherichia coli, brine shrimp, potato, tobacco, thale cress, yeast, fruit fly, and human cells: In his forty-year career Witold Filipowicz has not shied away from unusual cells. On the contrary, he has used the cells best suited to deliver answers to his curiosity-driven research into how the cell regulates RNA biogenesis, function and metabolism. On June 18, 2011 in Kyoto, Japan Dr. Filipowicz received the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award from the internationally renowned RNA Society. With the award the RNA Society honors his leadership in research on the biogenesis, function and metabolism of RNA and ribonucleoproteins (RNPs), the proteins interacting with RNA.

Dr. Sylvain Moineau

Sylvain Moineau, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Bioinformatics, Faculty of Sciences & Engineering at Université Laval, Québec City, Canada. He started his academic career in 1996, his research program was based on the study of phage and plasmid biology as well as on phage resistance mechanisms in lactic bacteria. This group of bacteria is used in food fermentations and includes Streptococcus thermophilus. Fifteen years later, he is an internationally recognized expert on phage biology and has developed one of the leading phage research programs which is supported by federal grants and contracts from the public and private sectors. Notably, he has taken various molecular approaches to better understand phage-host interactions. His group has also characterized and designed several phage resistance systems used by bacteria to resist virulent phage infections, including pioneered work on the CRISPR/Cas system. This information is widely recognized and has also found widespread practical use in the food industry. Since 2003, Dr. Moineau has also been the curator of the Félix d'Hérelle Reference Center for Bacterial Viruses, the largest public collection of reference phages in the world (www.phage.ulaval.ca). Among his Honors is the DSM Specialty Award. 2003. American Dairy Science Association (ADSA): To recognize outstanding accomplishments in chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, and engineering pertaining to the cheese and cultured dairy products industries and Professeur étoile (1999-2001, 2002, 2003, 2004-2005, 2007-2008) and Meritas (2008-2009). Plus, Six Awards from the Faculty of Sciences and Engineering at the Université Laval in recognition of his excellence in undergraduate teaching.

Dr. Venki Ramakrishnan

Venki Ramakrishnan has had a longstanding interest in ribosome structure and function. In 2000, his laboratory determined the atomic structure of the 30S ribosomal subunit and its complexes with ligands and antibiotics. In the last few years, Ramakrishan's lab has published high-resolution structures of functional complexes of the entire ribosome during decoding, peptidyl transfer, translocation and termination. This work has led to insights into how the ribosome “reads” the genetic code, as well as into various aspects of antibiotic function. Since 1999, he has been on the scientific staff of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge.

Dr. Joel Richter

Joel Richter is Professor of Molecular Medicine at The University of Massachusetts Medical School. He has studied mRNA translational control and 3' RNA processing for many years, which began with his analysis of maternal mRNA expression in Xenopus oocytes. In those cells, a number of mRNAs that are dormant have short poly(A) tails,and it is only when their tails are elongated in response to an environmental cue does translation occur. The Richter lab has defined much of the biochemistry that governspolyadenylation-induced translation in oocytes. The lab made the surprising discovery that CPEB, the key protein that controls polyadenylation, is also in the mammalian brain,specifically at post-synaptic sites of hippocampal and other neurons. Richter's lab subsequently showed that CPEB controls synapse function (plasticity) and learning and memory. More recent studies have identified specific mRNAs whose translation is regulated in dendrites by CPEB and its associated factors Gld2, a poly(A) polymerase,and Ngd, an eIF4E-binding protein. The Richter lab also made the unexpected observation that cultured mouse embryo fibroblasts (MEFs) lacking CPEB do notsenesce as do normal MEFs, but instead are immortal. Similarly, primary human diploid cells depleted of CPEB also bypass senescence. The CPEB-depleted cells undergo a profound change in bioenergetics by producing ATP primarily through glycolysis rather than oxidative phosphorylation (The Warburg Effect), which is one characteristic of cancer cells. CPEB control of p53 mRNA polyadenylation and translation is responsible for these events. New evidence indicates that the homeostatic control of p53 mRNA translation by CPEB also involves two poly(A) polymerases, Gld2 and Gld4, as well asmiR-122.

The 2011 Skirball Institute Twelfth Annual Symposium is organized by Ruth Lehmann, Joel Belasco, Dan Littman and Niels Ringstad

Direct all inquiries to Laura E. Rivera 212-263-3289