First Person | Tom Cech

Courtesy of Paul Fetters, HHMI

Tom Cech, 55, president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, understands that luck has graced his life. He skipped the "What-should-I-do-with-my-life" angst, knowing since grade school that he wanted to be a scientist. And when he mixed ammonia and bleach in his own little lab in his parents' basement, no life or property was lost.

He met his lifelong partner, Carol, in an organic chemistry class at Grinnell College in Iowa. After doing their postdocs in Boston (his at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, hers at Harvard University), they moved to the University of Colorado. And there, while working on how chromatin structure affects transcription, Cech and company found an excised intron while looking at the RNA. They abandoned chromatin structure and followed that intron, leading, eventually to identifying RNA as a biocatalyst, and to the Nobel Prize. Says Cech: "It's...

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