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NIM nanosystems initiative munich

Wednesday, 29 March, 2017

ERC Grant for Thomas Carell

Advanced Investigator Grant

Opens external link in new windowProfessor Thomas Carell is NIM member and Professor of Organic Chemistry at LMU, and his research focuses on the biochemistry of the so-called epigenetic code – a set of chemical modifications of the canonical nucleosides that make up the universal genetic code, induced by environmental factors and by endogenous alterations in the cell’s differentiation state.

In his new ERC project, “The Chemical Basis of RNA Epigenetics”, Carell will explore how and why organisms chemically modify the nucleoside subunits of the nucleic acids DNA and RNA, focusing in particular on messenger RNAs (mRNAs). Such modifications act as a supplementary layer of information, which helps to determine which of the genes encoded in the cell’s DNA genome are active, or susceptible to activation, at any given time. The epigenetic code thus enables the organism to regulate the activity of its genes in a highly flexible manner. This second level of information involves the site-specific chemical modification of the nucleoside subunits that make up both DNA and RNA molecules. About 150 nucleoside variants are now known but, according to Carell, there may well be many more. His goal is to identify as yet uncharacterized modifications and determine their biological functions.

The new project promises not only to yield new insights into the structures and functions of modified nucleosides, but could also shed new light on the origin of the genetic code itself. According to the so-called RNA world hypothesis, the era of biological evolution was preceded by a phase of chemical evolution, in which RNA and atypical modified bases are thought to have played an important role. Last year, in a paper that appeared in the journal Science, Carell and his colleagues described a novel reaction mechanism that could have given rise to purines (one of the two types of nucleosides used in the universal genetic code) under prebiotic conditions on the early Earth.

Thomas Carell was born in Herford in 1966. He studied at the University of Münster and obtained his PhD at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg. He was a Postdoctoral Fellow in Professor Julius Rebek’s group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge from 1993 until 1995, before moving to the ETH in Zürich to set up his own research group. He was appointed to a professorship at the Marburg University in 2000, and took up his present position at LMU in 2004.

Source: LMU München


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