2014 Hans and Marlies Zimmer International Scholar

Prof. Dr. Mark Helm, Inst. for Chemistry & Biochemistry, Mainz, Germany

The 2014 Zimmer International Scholar is Prof. Dr. Mark Helm. Mark was born in Bremen, Germany and is currently a Professor at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Germany. After studying chemistry in Würzburg, he did his Ph.D. as a Marie-Curie Fellow at the University Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg, France. After being an HFSPO Postdoctoral Fellow at Caltech, he spent a second Postdoctoral period at the Free University of Berlin, before starting his own research group at the Heidelberg University in 2002. After his Habilitation in 2008 he moved to his current position in at the Institute of Pharmacy and Biochemistry in Mainz in 2009. The Helm group focuses on natural and synthetic nucleoside modifications in RNA, thereby integrating approaches from synthetic chemistry, biophysical chemistry, biochemistry, analytic chemistry and aspects of cell biology. This interdisciplinary blend is reflected by recent publications in JACS, ChemComm, Chemistry & Biology, Nature Structural and Molecular Biology, and Journal of Experimental Medicine.

“Chemistry and Biology of Modified RNA”

A classical function of RNA is transport of genetic information and its translation into molecular reality in the form of proteins, which then perform most of the molecular functions that sustain life. Myriads of additions, extensions and modulations of these basic functions make RNA research a huge and exciting field. In stark contrast to this functional variety, the common perception of the chemical structure of RNA appears extremely simplistic. Similar to DNA, RNA is composed of only four main building blocks. To compensate for the resulting lack of functional group variety, chemical modifications of RNA have evolved in nature, which are added to RNA molecules by specific enzymes. About 150 chemically distinct RNA modifications are currently known, and their number is steadily increasing. This presentation provides an overview of chemical structures, biological functions, and the genesis of RNA modifications. This is followed by an outlook on chemical synthesis of natural and artificial RNA modifications and their application in biomedical research and drug development.