Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Jennifer A. Doudna

Jennifer A. Doudna Ph.D. is a Professor of Chemistry and of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. She has been an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute since 1997. She earned her B.A. in Chemistry from Pomona College and her Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Harvard University on ribozymes under the mentorship of Jack W. Szostak. She did her postdoctoral work with Thomas Cech at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

While in the Szostak lab, she reengineered the self-splicing Group I catalytic intron into a true catalytic ribozyme that would copy RNA templates. Recognizing the limitations of not being able see the molecular mechanisms of the ribozymes. She started work to crystallize and solve the three-dimensional structure of the Tetrahymena Group I ribozyme in 1991 in the Cech Lab and continued while she started her professorship at Yale University in 1994. 

While the group was able to grow high-quality crystals, they struggled with the phase problem due to unspecific binding of the metal ions. One of her early graduate students and later her husband, Jamie Cate decided to soak the crystals in osmium hexamine to imitate magnesium. Using this strategy, they were able to solve the structure, the second solved folded RNA structure since tRNA. The magnesium ions would cluster at the center of the ribozyme and would serve as a core for RNA folding similar to that of a hydrophobic core of a protein.

Jennifer was promoted to be the Henry Ford II Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale in 2000. In 2002, she accepted a faculty position at University of California, Berkeley as a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology so that she would be closer to family and the synchrotron at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. This initial work to solve large RNA structures lead to further structural studies on the HDV ribozyme, the IRES, and protein-RNA complexes like the Signal recognition particle. Her lab now focuses on obtaining a mechanistic understanding of biological processes involving RNA.

This work is divided over three major areas, the CRISPR system, RNA interference, and translational control via MicroRNAs. She was a Searle Scholar and received the 1999 NAS Award for Initiatives in Research and the 2000 Alan T. Waterman Award. She has received several awards and has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2002 and the Institute of Medicine in 2010.