Ron Plasterk on Small Interfering RNAs
  Ron Plasterk     Biography    
Recorded: 07 Jun 2004

Actually I think that at the core of it more important that double-stranded RNA are the small interfering RNAs – the SiRNAs – and I remember that discovery, by David Bulkum who was working on plants at the John Innes in England, was really something that shocked me because we then found all these different silencing phenomena- quelling in Neurospora (a fungus), post transcriptional gene silencing in plants, RNAi in animals were really basically all the same mechanism because they all share these small RNAs that were made by the dicer-protein so you have long double stranded RNA which is diced by these dicer-RNAs into these small twenty-one nucleotide double stranded RNAs of which one strand will then go on into a protein complex that we call RISC – RNA Induced Silencing Complex – and that can find the messenger RNA and base pair to it. And if it base pairs to it successfully it will destine that messenger for degradation, thereby silencing that gene, knock down that gene. So it doesn’t knock out that gene because then it would mean that it makes a mutation in that gene. But it knocks down it means that it makes it not efficiently expressed anymore.

So it was really a shock when it turned out that at the heart of the whole mechanism was this siRNA, which was found in all these different phenomena. So in the first wave of surprise what we saw was that all these different phenomena, with flower color here and with eyes in drosophila there and with whatever in worms, they were all the same mechanism. The second wave of surprise I think will be that they are all different. Is that finally now that everybody is convinced that it is all the same we are going to find that it is not all the same because we diverged many millions of years ago and the things we find in plants may not be the same as the things we find in animals.

Ronald Plasterk, is a Dutch politician of the Labour Party and successful scientist and molecular genetics. He studied biology at the Leiden University and economics at the University of Amsterdam. In 1981 he received the Dutch doctorandus degree in biology. In 1984 he earned a doctorate in mathematics and natural sciences from the University of Leiden.

After receiving his Ph.D. he moved to California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and worked as a post-doc (1985-1986) on the transposon sequences in DNA in the parasite Borrelia hermsii. Plasterk was also a post-doc at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge (1986-1987) where he studied Caenorhabditis elegans, a nematode that is used as a model organism. His major area of research include genetics and functional genomics.

He came back to the Netherlands in 1987 and became a group leader and member of the board of the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam. Between 1989 and 2000 he was director of the research school of oncology at the institute. From 1997 till 2000 he was professor of molecular genetics at the University of Amsterdam. In 2000 was appointed director of the Netherlands Institute for Developmental Biology (Hubrecht Laboratory) and at the same time he was a professor in developmental genetics at Utrecht University.

In February 2007 Ronald Plasterek was appointed minister of Education, Culture and Science in the fourth Balkenende government and he decided to end his scientific career. He held this position until February 2010. He is a member of the House of Representatives and Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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