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Iowa History Daily: December 8 - Chemist Thomas Chech Wins Nobel Prize

Iowa History Daily: On December 8, 1947, Nobel Prize winning chemist Thomas Cech was born. Credited as the co-discoverer of the catalytic properties of RNA, Cech discovered RNA can itself cut strands of RNA, suggesting life might have started as RNA.

Growing up in Iowa city, Cech showed an intense interest in science at a young age. In junior high school, he knocked on the doors of geology professors at the University of Iowa, and asked them to discuss crystal structures, meteorites and fossils. After gaining distinction as a National Merit Scholar at Iowa City, City High, Czech enrolled at Grinnell College in 1966.

During his time at Grinnell, Cech studied a broad range of subjects including constitutional history and chemistry. He also met his wife, Carol Lynn Martinson, after the two found themselves partnered in the lab as a part of an organic chemistry course. After graduation from Grinnell in 1970, Cech completed his PhD in chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley before pursuing a post-doc at MIT.

In the 1970s, Cech started studying the splicing of RNA in the unicellular organism Tetrahymena thermophila and discovered that an unprocessed RNA molecule could splice itself. In 1982, Cech became the first to show that RNA molecules are not restricted to being passive carriers of genetic information – they can have catalytic functions and can participate in cellular reactions. In 1989, Cech shared the 1989 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Sidney Altman for their discovery of the catalytic properties of RNA. #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar


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