“We conclude that splicing activity is intrinsic to the structure of the RNA, and that enzymes, small nuclear RNAs and folding of the pre-rRNA into an RNP are unnecessary for these reactions. We propose that the IVS portion of the RNA has several enzyme-like properties that enable it to break and reform phosphodiester bonds. The finding of autocatalytic rearrangements of RNA molecules has implications for the mechanism and the evolution of other reactions that involve RNA.”1This was the first example of a particular class of self-catalytic (self-excising) introns we now classify as “group I introns”4.
I first met Tom at the Twelfth Annual Meeting of the RNA Society in 2007, where he gave the keynote lecture ("From the RNA world to the RNP world") and later on in
Here’s a short interview by Richard Sever, where Tom discusses, very generally, RNA as a catalyst. He talks a little about the seminal discovery stated above, compares RNA- and protein-based catalysis and briefly discusses the evolution of catalytic RNAs.
I recommend that you download the video (rather than wait for it to load), as it is a 125Mb file.
1Kruger K, Grabowski PJ, Zaug AJ, Sands J, Gottschling DE, Cech TR (1982) Self-splicing RNA: autoexcision and autocyclization of the ribosomal RNA intervening sequence of Tetrahymena. Cell 31(1):147-57
2 Inoue T, Sullivan FX, Cech TR.(1985) Intermolecular exon ligation of the rRNA precursor of Tetrahymena: oligonucleotides can function as 5' exons. Cell 43 2:431-7.
3 Sullivan FX, Cech TR. (1985) Reversibility of cyclization of the Tetrahymena rRNA intervening sequence: implication for the mechanism of splice site choice. Cell 42(2):639-48.