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Dr. Walter studies the many functions of RNA, which combines into the most copious enzyme on our planet. RNA research is catching up with the rest of our genetic findings after DNA dominated the field for so long.

Dr. Walter plows into this knowledge by discussing

  • how the extra base oxygen in RNA gives it different abilities than DNA;
  • the many different functional RNA types, from general assembly instructions to specialized directions for unique adjustments; and 
  • how RNA may have been the first spark igniting life at the bottom of the oceans.

Dr. Nils Walter is the Francis S. Collins Collegiate Professor of chemistry, biophysics, and biological chemistry at the University of Michigan.

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He’s also the founding codirector of the Center for RNA Biomedicine. The center researches foundational biological RNA discoveries and translates them for use towards future medicines.

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Dr. Walter has been researching at the University of Michigan for 20 years; for the most part, his work has been focused on functional RNA types. In this conversation he offers a non-coding RNA review and recounts numerous discoveries, such as the structure and function connection and why it’s important that RNA has a more transient nature than DNA.

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He expands on this review by reminding listeners that when the human genome was sequenced in 2003, researchers discovered that just 1.5% of the genome codes for proteins while the rest is transcribed into RNA. These RNAs form multiple structures that become functional RNA types.

As he continues with his non-coding RNA review, he explains that RNA folds into intricate 3D architectures, which enables them to take on complex functions such as the formation of ribosomes. Dr. Nils describes additional jobs of the RNA molecule and articulates how these discoveries will lend themselves to future medicines.

For more, see his lab page at as well as the Center for RNA Biomedicine page at

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