Biophysical Chemistry, Nucleic Acids, Single Molecules — Physical methods are used to determine the structures of nucleic acids and illuminate the biological functions they control.
The sequence of nucleotides in a nucleic acid determines its structure and function; Professor Tinoco and his students want to deduce these fundamental properties from the sequence. Important questions are: What folded, base-paired structure of an RNA is specified by the sequence? How do RNA loops interact with each other, or with double-stranded regions to form compact three-dimensional structures? What proteins, drugs, and ions do these structures bind? How do the sequence and structure affect the functions of ribosomal RNA's, the sites of processing of RNA, the translation of messenger RNA's, the replication of RNA viruses, and the catalytic abilities of RNA enzymes?
Our main emphasis is single-molecule measurements. A single RNA is held between beads and force is applied to unfold it in any chosen condition. The work done in unfolding the RNA provides the free energy of the reaction in the chosen environment. The kinetics of the reaction can also be obtained. We have recently started studies of protein translation by individual ribosomes. Translation occurs by a series of steps with translocations of approximately 0.1 s followed by pauses of order 1 s. We are learning the effects of messenger RNA sequence and structure, and of antibiotics, on translation, in particular on the mechanism of frameshifting.
Ignacio Tinoco received a Bachelor's degree from the University of New Mexico in 1951, and a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 1954. He was a postdoctoral fellow with John Kirkwood at Yale University from 1954-56. He joined the University of California, Berkeley as a faculty member in 1956, where he is presently Professor in the Graduate School and a Faculty Senior Scientist, Physical Biosciences Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He was Chairman of the Chemistry Department (1979-82). His honors and awards include: Guggenheim Fellow, Medical Research Council Laboratory, Cambridge (1964); California Section Award, American Chemical Society (1965); D.Sc. University of New Mexico (1972); Member, National Academy of Sciences (1985); Elisabeth R. Cole Award, Biophysical Society (1996); Berkeley Citation, University of California (1996); Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2001); Founders Award, Biophysical Society (2006); Fellow: American Physical Society, Biophysical Society.