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Ronald Breaker

BS ’87, Biology, University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point
PhD ’92, Biochemistry, Purdue University
(Nominated by: Nominated by Biological Sciences)

"The environment at Purdue was fantastic. I found myself surrounded by smart and eager graduate students, professors with exciting research projects, and a diversity of labs to choose from. I joined the lab of Peter Gilham, who was willing to discuss my questions deeply, and to give me the freedom to explore my research interests without restriction. I graduated with the inspiration to think deeply and the experience to do science without hesitation."

Before he founded his lab at Yale University, before he became a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and even before he started his research on synthesis of RNA and the catalytic properties of nucleic acids, Dr. Ronald Breaker quickly became enamored with Purdue.

"Walking into the Purdue Memorial Union through its main entrance was a wonderful experience on my first day on campus, and every time thereafter until my last day on campus,” Breaker stated. “This entryway always reminded me that Purdue is a strong and historic university that was built by many great people and has educated many more."

Currently Chair of the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at Yale University where he holds the Henry Ford II Professorship, Breaker is jointly appointed as a professor in the Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale, and is an Investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Through his lab, Breaker has continued work on the advanced functions of nucleic acids, including ribozyme reaction mechanisms, molecular switch technology, next-generation biosensors, and catalytic DNA engineering for almost 20 years.

"This work has resolved genetic mysteries that have puzzled researchers for decades, has revealed otherwise hidden pathways in biology, and is opening up new opportunities for the development of antibiotics,” Breaker said. “Also, since riboswitches appear to be of very ancient origin, our discoveries add much support to the ‘RNA World’ theory, which holds that life passed through a stage where all cellular functions were run by RNA molecules."

Career Highlights

  • 2013 Elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences
  • 2002 Published first proofs that ancient RNA molecules called “riboswitches” exist in many forms of life.
  • 1994 Used evolution in a test tube to create the first examples of DNA molecules that act like enzymes and perform chemical reactions as postdoctoral researcher at Scripps Research Institute

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