Nobel Laureate Professor Craig Mello visits JCSMR to inspire its researchers and community

Craig Mello Nobel JCSMR
24 April 2024

By Anna Maria Benc and Dr Nikolay Shirokikh

On the 17th and 18th April 2024, the corridors of John Curtin School of Medical Research (JCSMR) were filled with excitement as we welcomed distinguished Nobel Prize laureate Craig Mello for a special visit to our School as a part of 75 anniversary celebration series. Craig Mello has captivated students and faculty alike with stories of his groundbreaking work and inspirational journey. Craig Mello, foremost known for his revolutionary discovery of RNA interference, graced JCSMR during a brief detour from his journey to Indonesia. Craig Mello has been a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator 2000-2024, is Blais University Chair in Molecular Medicine, Co-Director (and the founder) of the RNA Therapeutics Institute and a Distinguished Professor at UMass Chan Medical School. The discovery of RNA interference has transformed our understanding of the function of RNA beyond merely a transient carrier of genetic information into a pivotal player and regulator of many of the cellular processes, and first highlighted its therapeutic and biotechnological potential.

Born in Connecticut and a graduate of Brown University in Rhode Island, Professor Mello’s academic journey began under the mentorship of David Hirsh, who was developing methods for DNA transformation in Caenorhabditis elegans. Craig completed his PhD and continued his research with Dan Stinchcomb at Harvard University, after David Hirsh decided to take a position in industry. Since then, Craig’s illustrious career has been adorned with numerous accolades, including the prestigious Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 2006 for the discovery of RNA Interference, an honour which he shares with Andrew Fire.

During his visit to JCSMR, orchestrated by Dr Nikolay Shirokikh of the Shine-Dalgarno Centre for RNA Innovation, Professor Mello delivered a riveting seminar titled: ‘RNAi: A Molecular Spark in an Information Inferno’, unravelling the complexities of RNA interference amidst a captivated audience. His presentation led us on a journey through time and evolution to the worm that shares 3 billion years of common ancestry with humans along with some of the most basic principles of multicellular life in a clean, compact package – encouraging to tackle on big questions of biology. Professor Mello touched on the questions of the origin of life, the complexity of genetic information handling and its ubiquitous exchange in and out of the species’ space. He provided an outlook into the new possible roles of RNA, for example piRNA, in processes that enable sharing, inheriting, blacklisting and enabling the genetic information between the living organisms.

Since being awarded his Nobel Prize, Professor Mello’s dedication to advancing RNA research culminated in the establishment of the RNA Therapeutics Institute in the USA, pioneering efforts in RNA translation and fundamental RNA research. His visionary leadership extends to the realm of biotechnology, with notable contributions to initiatives such as CRISPR Therapeutics along with the many other co-founded and consulted companies.

Professor Mello’s visit was supported by the ANU College of Health and Medicine and co-sponsored by ATA Scientific. The Shine-Dalgarno Centre for RNA Innovation and the John Curtin School of Medical Research are honoured to have hosted Professor Craig Mello, and eagerly anticipate fostering future collaborations to push the boundaries of scientific discovery.

For those who missed out or would like to re-watch the presentation you can find it here: Events – The ACT RNA Club

Some highlights of the event.

(L-R) Professor Craig Mello, Professor Elizabeth Gardiner and Dr Nikolay Shirokikh (Photo Tracey Nearmy/ ANU)

Photos Kassapa Senarath | JCSMR Communications