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Election Year: 2013
Primary Section: 21, Biochemistry
Membership Type: Member
Breaker is the Chair and Henry Ford II Professor of the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at Yale University. He is jointly appointed as a professor in the Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, and is an Investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. His graduate studies with Dr. Peter Gilham at Purdue University focused on the synthesis of RNA and the catalytic properties of nucleic acids. As a postdoctoral researcher with Dr. Gerald Joyce at The Scripps Research Institute, Breaker pioneered a variety of in vitro evolution strategies to isolate novel RNA enzymes and was the first to discover catalytic DNAs or "deoxyribozymes" using this technology. Since establishing his laboratory at Yale in 1995, Breaker has continued to conduct research on the advanced functions of nucleic acids, including ribozyme reaction mechanisms, molecular switch technology, next-generation biosensors, and catalytic DNA engineering. Most recently, his laboratory has established the first proofs that metabolites are directly bound by messenger RNA elements called riboswitches. Breaker's research findings have been published in more than 100 scientific papers, book chapters, and patent applications, and his research has been funded by grants from the NIH, NSF, DARPA, the Hereditary Disease Foundation, and from several biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and the Hellman Family Trust. In recognition of his research accomplishments at Yale, Breaker received the Arthur Greer Memorial Prize (1997), the Eli Lilly Award in Microbiology (2005) and the Molecular Biology Award from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (2006). Breaker has cofounded two biotechnology companies and is a scientific advisor for industry and for various government agencies. He serves on the editorial board for the scientific journals RNA Biology, RNA, Interdisciplinary Reviews: RNA, and Chemistry & Biology.
Numerous structured RNAs remain to be discovered that are derived from the noncoding portions of the genomes of cells from all three domains of life. Many of these RNAs will prove to function as novel riboswitches that respond to essential metabolites or other ligands. Breaker seeks to discover and validate the functions of riboswitches to reveal otherwise hidden regulatory networks. Since some riboswitches control the expression of essential genes in bacteria, he and his research team is exploring the possibility of creating new classes of antibacterial compounds that target RNAs. In some instances, the newfound RNAs are unusually large and appear to represent novel classes of ribozymes. Since the known ribozyme classes carry out critical biochemical functions such as protein synthesis and RNA processing, these new ribozyme candidates will allow us to broaden the known repertoire of natural enzymes made of RNA.