What Makes Each of Us Unique?

Nobel laureate Craig C. Mello will give a talk at UC Riverside June 24 on the secrets of evolution and immortality

Craig C. Mello holds the Blais University Chair in Molecular Medicine and is co-director of the RNA Therapeutics Institute at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Photo credit: University of Massachusetts Medical School.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Everything alive today shares a common ancestry of nearly 4 billion years duration. Recent investigations have begun to reveal the remarkable sophistication of the “information technology” inside all organisms.

On Wednesday, June 24, Nobel laureate Craig C. Mello will give a talk at the University of California, Riverside in which he will review the place of mankind in the universe, the history of our evolutionary origins, and the biological mechanisms that propagate, from one generation to the next, the information that makes each of us unique.

Titled “A Worm’s Tale: Secrets of Evolution and Immortality,” the free hour-long talk will take place at 3 p.m. in the auditorium of the Genomics Building on campus.  A reception in the building lobby will follow the talk.  Parking information can be found here.

Mello, who, together with Andrew Fire, won the 2006 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine, explained that 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, Mellow explained, 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 a short query is typed 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,” Mello said.  “But, what this talk is really about is the excitement of science and the ever unfolding and deepening mysteries of life.”

Mello is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, holds the Blais University Chair in Molecular Medicine and is co-director of the RNA Therapeutics Institute at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

His lab uses the nematode worm C. elegans as a model system to study embryogenesis and gene silencing.  His collaborative work with Fire led to the discovery of RNAi. Together they showed that exposing C. elegans to double-stranded ribonucleic acid (dsRNA) induces a sequence-specific silencing reaction that interferes with the expression of cognate cellular RNAs. RNAi is related to ancient gene-regulatory mechanisms found in both plants and animals.  RNAi mechanisms are essential to life, and are now employed by scientists to explore the biological functions of genes, study disease processes and design new therapies.

Mello earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Brown University and a doctorate in cellular and developmental biology from Harvard University. He did postdoctoral work at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.  He then joined the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1994 as an assistant professor, and has continued his research there ever since.

He has received numerous prizes and awards for his research, including a Pew Scholarship in the Biomedical Sciences; a National Academy of Sciences Award in Molecular Biology; Brandeis University’s Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Medical Research; the Canadian government’s Gairdner International Award; the Dr. Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research by Johnson & Johnson; the Wiley Prize in the Biomedical Sciences from Rockefeller University; the Warren Triennial Prize from the Massachusetts General Hospital; and the Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize from the Federal Republic of Germany.  He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society.

Media Contact


Tel: (951) 827-6050
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Additional Contacts

More information about the lecture
Tel: (951) 827-2341
E-mail: shou-wei.ding@ucr.edu

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