Ronald R. Breaker, newly named as a Sterling Professor of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, is one of the world’s experts on the diversity and function of RNAs, which are crucial to carrying out a host of life processes. Breaker is best known for his discovery of riboswitches, elements of RNA that can control the expression of genes.
A Sterling Professorship is one of the university’s highest faculty honors.
A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Breaker earned his Ph.D. from Purdue University. He conducted postdoctoral research at The Scripps Research Institute, pioneering a variety of “test-tube evolution” strategies to isolate novel RNA enzymes. He was the first to create catalytic DNAs or “deoxyribozymes” using this technology. Since establishing his laboratory at Yale in 1995, Breaker has continued to conduct research on the advanced functions of nucleic acids, including ribozyme reaction mechanisms, molecular switch technology, next-generation biosensors, and catalytic DNA engineering. His laboratory has established the first proofs that metabolites are directly bound by messenger RNA elements called riboswitches; discovered more than 40 distinct classes of these RNA gene control elements; and published the first studies validating riboswitches as targets for antibiotics.
Prior to his new appointment, Breaker was the Henry Ford II Professor of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology. He holds a joint appointment as a professor in the Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, and is an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Breaker’s research findings have been published in more than 180 scientific papers and book chapters. He is a named inventor on several patents related to riboswitches and their applications. His research has been funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Hereditary Disease Foundation, and several biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and the Hellman Family Trust. In recognition of his research accomplishments at Yale, Breaker received the Arthur Greer Memorial Prize, the Eli Lilly Award in Microbiology, the Molecular Biology Award from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and the Rolf Sammet Professorship award. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2013.
Breaker has co-founded two biotechnology companies, serves on several scientific advisory boards, including the Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Science, and on the editorial boards for the scientific journals RNA Biology, RNA, and Cell Chemical Biology.