Alan M. Lambowitz

The University of Texas at Austin


Primary Section: 21, Biochemistry
Secondary Section: 26, Genetics
Membership Type: Member (elected 2004)

Research Interests

My laboratory studies genetic elements called group I and group II introns, which are found inserted within genes in diverse organisms. Although these introns are catalytic RNAs that under artificial conditions excise themselves from gene transcripts by "self-splicing", we showed that their splicing in cells requires proteins that help fold the intron RNA into the catalytically active structure. Such protein-assisted RNA catalysis is now known to underlie fundamental processes in higher organisms. We also showed that group II introns can move to different DNA sites by a remarkable mechanism in which the excised intron RNA inserts directly into DNA and is then copied from RNA into DNA by an intron-encoded reverse transcriptase. This discovery has implications for the origin and spread of introns within genomes, as well as the evolution of viruses and mobile genetic elements. Moreover, the mechanism we elucidated makes it possible to precisely control the site of intron insertion, enabling us to develop novel group II intron-based gene targeting vectors, with potential applications in genetic engineering, functional genomics, and gene therapy. We are continuing to study the fundamental properties of group I and group II introns, their splicing and mobility mechanisms, and their practical applications.

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