Edward Curtis

Following the discovery of catalytic RNA in the early 1980s, a goal of many research groups was to more clearly define the scope of possible RNA functions. These studies established that RNA molecules can bind many different types of ligands and can catalyze a wide variety of simple chemical reactions. In recent years, RNA molecules with increasingly sophisticated activities have also been generated, including allosterically activiated ribozyme sensors that produce a signal only in the presence of specific ligands, ribozyme recombinases that insert themselves into specific target sequences, and ribozyme polymerases that can synthesize transcripts containing hundreds of nucleotides. Most of these examples were identified using the technique of in vitro selection (see diagram), in which multiple cycles of transcription, selection, and amplification are performed to isolate rare molecules with interesting properties from large random sequence pools. I am interested in using in vitro selection to learn more about the functional capabilities of both artificial and naturally occurring RNA molecules. One focus of my group will be to generate functional RNA molecules that can be used for practical applications. Another will be to search for new examples of functional RNA molecules in nature. Many important discoveries have been made in the last decade alone, and I believe that many more remain to be made.


My research group will be interdisciplinary, and I am especially interested in students with backgrounds in molecular biology, biochemistry, chemistry, and computer science.