2003 Stetten Lecture -- RNA-Triggered Genetic Silencing Mechanisms

Masur Auditorium
Clinical Center (Building 10)
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, Maryland

Start Date: 10/22/2003 3:00 PM

End Date: 10/22/2002 4:00 PM

2003 Stetten Lecture Poster

Videocast - Andrew Z. FireStetten Lecture videocast

Speaker: Andrew Z. Fire, Ph.D.
Staff Scientist
Department of Embryology
Carnegie Institution of Washington

Biographical Sketch

It is not every day that scientists reveal nature’s best secrets, the ones that promise to deepen understanding of the basic biology of living things. The recent discovery of RNA interference, or RNAi, is a breakthrough of this caliber. As evidence, Science magazine declared advances in understanding RNAi and other small RNAs to be the top scientific achievement of 2002.

Andrew Z. Fire, Ph.D., was one of a number of scientists who pioneered the study of RNAi, a technique researchers are calling a revolutionary tool for determining gene function in animals, plants, and humans. Fire and his coworkers devised a clever set of studies that helped explain how RNAi works by using double-stranded RNA as a molecular “mute button” to silence the activity of individual genes.

Fire uses the roundworm C. elegans to study how primitive cells form tissues during development. RNAi has advanced his quest to find genes involved in this fundamental process, which is remarkably similar in worms and mammals. Beyond RNAi’s use in answering fundamental riddles of biology, the technology also shows promise as a powerful new way to understand disease and design medical treatments. In recent tests with lab-grown cells, for example, several scientists have succeeded in using RNAi to kill HIV. While further experiments will determine if RNAi can help treat AIDS, it is already clear that RNAi is a valuable tool for understanding AIDS and other diseases caused by viruses.

Fire is a member of the scientific staff of the Department of Embryology at the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Baltimore. He is also an adjunct professor of biology at The Johns Hopkins University. He received an A.B. in mathematics in 1978 from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Ph.D. in biology in 1983 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Fire’s many honors include winning the Genetics Society of America Medal and sharing the National Academy of Sciences Award in Molecular Biology and the Wiley Prize in the Biomedical Sciences.

NIGMS has supported Fire’s research since he became an independent investigator in 1986.