Gerald F. Joyce
The Scripps Research Institute
Election Year: 2001
Primary Section: 21, Biochemistry
Secondary Section: 14, Chemistry
Membership Type: Member
My research concerns the biochemistry of RNA and the development of novel RNA and DNA enzymes through in vitro evolution. Like their protein counterparts, nucleic acid enzymes assume a well-defined structure that is responsible for their catalytic activity. Unlike proteins, nucleic acids are genetic molecules that can be amplified and mutated in the test tube. My laboratory has learned to exploit the dual role of nucleic acids as both catalyst and genetic molecule to develop RNA- and DNA-based evolving systems that operate entirely in vitro. We can carry out up to 100 "generations" of test-tube evolution daily, allowing us to evolve nucleic acid enzymes at a much more rapid pace than in nature. Our studies of RNA-based evolution are relevant to understanding the early history of life on Earth. It is believed that an RNA-based genetic system (the "RNA world") preceded the DNA and protein-based genetic system that has existed for 3.5 billion years. Our research aims to recapitulate the biochemistry of the RNA world in the laboratory. We use in vitro evolution to explore the catalytic potential of RNA, especially to search for RNA enzymes that have the ability to catalyze their own replication.