8th Annual RNA Institute Symposium Features Trailblazers in the Science

ALBANY, N.Y. (Jan. 27, 2022) — Two American pioneers in RNA science headline the University’s 8th Annual RNA Institute Symposium, which takes place March 17-18 at the Life Sciences Research Building.

Joan Steitz and Erik Sontheimer, University at Albany RNA Symposium
Joan Steitz and Erik Sontheimer

Joan Steitz, Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale University and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Erik Sontheimer, professor in the RNA Therapeutics Institute and the Program for Molecular Medicine at UMass Medical School in Worcester, Mass., will deliver the in-person keynote addresses on Day 1.

Day 1 will also feature talks from four leading UAlbany researchers in the RNA field, and a poster session. Day 2 will be devoted to talks by UAlbany student trainees, a faculty-led Rigor and Reductibility Roundtable and an awards ceremony.

“We’re very excited about this upcoming edition of the symposium,” said Distinguished Professor Marlene Belfort, senior advisor to the Institute. “It’s been a Life Sciences highlight for the last eight years, featuring Nobel laureates on one hand and our student trainees on the other. Even last year, in lockdown, we had a very vibrant virtual two-day event featuring speakers from around the world, including Europe, Asia and South America”.

Steitz’ discoveries involving RNA include ground-breaking insights into how ribosomes interact with messenger RNA. In 2018 she was given the Lasker-Koshland Award for Special Achievement in Medical Science. (Eighty-seven Lasker winners have gone on to Nobel prizes.)

Sontheimer began investigating CRISPR-Cas interference mechanisms in pathogenic bacteria in 2007, and has since pioneered the optimization of CRISPR-Cas systems for genome editing. In the last eight years, he has focused on the optimization of CRISPR systems for application to therapeutic gene editing. Sontheimer serves on the advisory board of the RNA Institute.

“We’ve lined up two excellent keynote speakers again this year,” said Belfort. “Joan Steitz, is a founder of the field of RNA Science and a legend in the field. Erik Sontheimer’s work is also marvelous, going back to the early CRISPR days. Erik did his post-doc in Joan’s lab. It’s a small RNA world.”

University at Albany faculty associated with the RNA Institute are becoming significant players in that world, and four of them will present their laboratories’ work in the Day 1 talks:

  • Alan Chen, associate professor in Chemistry, is a computational biophysicist who specializes in RNA folding and structural analysis using simulations
  • Jia Sheng, associate professor in Chemistry, works on RNA chemical modification where his lab synthesizes modified nucleic acids and explores the structural biology of modified RNA
  • Kathleen McDonough, professor of Biomedical Sciences, is director of state Department of Health Division of Infectious Disease, located in the Wadsworth Center. Her lab works on gene regulation of bacterial pathogenesis such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
  • Gaby Fuchs, assistant professor in Biology, works on ribosome composition in cells during viral infections and explores the mechanism of translation initiation pathways in mammalian cells.

To find out more about the two-day event, including registration and submission of abstracts for posters or trainee talks, go to the special RNA Symposium website.