Cech, Thomas Robert [key], 1947–, American microbiologist, b. Chicago, grad. Univ. of California, Berkeley. A professor at the Univ. of Colorado, he discovered that RNA could function as enzymes; it was previously thought that enzymatic activity was only possible in protein molecules. His discovery has a potential use in fighting viral infections. For this work, Cech shared the 1989 Nobel Prize in Physics with Sidney Altman, who independently made the same discovery. In 2000 he became president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a philanthropic organization that is an important underwriter of biomedical research and education.
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