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Olke C. Uhlenbeck

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O. C. Uhlenbeck
Alma materUniversity of Michigan
Harvard University
Known forRNA synthesis from synthetic templates, RNA-protein interactions, RNA Biochemistry
(m. 1965⁠–⁠1976)
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Illinois
University of Colorado
Northwestern University
Doctoral advisorPaul Doty

Olke C. Uhlenbeck is a Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry at the University of Colorado Boulder[1] and at Northwestern University.[2][3]

His research group has led to many breakthroughs in RNA biochemistry, including the enzymatic synthesis of RNAs from synthetic DNA templates using T7 RNA polymerase.[4][better source needed] Olke was a founding member of the RNA Society.[5] His father was theoretical physicist George Uhlenbeck.


He completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in 1964, and then completed his doctorate in biophysics at Harvard University in 1969 under the supervision of Paul Doty.[6] As a graduate student in Paul Doty's lab, Uhlenbeck showed that the anticodon of tRNA was accessible to hybridization to oligonucleotides.[7][better source needed]


He is known for his studies of RNA biochemistry. Some[who?] have called him the "Father of RNA".[8]

Uhlenbeck was first published in 1968 at Harvard University for an article titled, "Some Effects on Noncomplementary Bases on the Stability of Helical Complexes of Polyribonucleotides". The study overviews the conformation of specific polyribonucleotide sequences.[9]

A visual representation of a molecule of RNA.

In the 1970s, he began his work on RNA. As a Miller Research Fellow in Ignacio Tinoco, Jr.'s lab he helped define an original model for RNA secondary structure prediction.[10][better source needed]

In 1987, his research found that transcription occurs at variable initiation sites that can produce small nucleotide strands. These different strands contribute to the variability of RNA. Uhlenbeck and colleagues described a method to make small ribonucleotide sequences that were specific to synthetic DNA used in the study.[11]

He has also researched RNA polymerases that are involved in the creation of DNA synthesis, working on the analysis and understanding of the R17 protein coat.[12] Following that research, he along with a group of colleagues defined the accepted model of RNA secondary structure.[6]

Uhlenbeck studied how amino acids that are esterified interact with tRNA differently.[13]

Uhlenbeck Lab[edit]

Uhlenbeck runs the Uhlenbeck lab at Northwestern University after having moved it from the University of Colorado Boulder. Their current research focuses on the recognition and activity of modified tRNA. One of their major focuses is the development of an aminoacyl tRNA synthetase, which allows the researchers to conduct their experiment when there is excess enzyme in the environment.[2]

Notable contributions include:


In 1993, Uhlenbeck was inducted into the National Academy of Sciences for his work in RNA biochemistry.[14]

John Milligan and his wife created the "Olke C. Uhlenbeck Endowed Graduate Fund" which funds the tuition of first-year graduate students pursuing their doctorate degrees at the University of Colorado, Boulder. It was named after Uhlenbeck because of the impact he made on the biochemistry department at Colorado.[6]

In 2013, Uhlenbeck was awarded the Fritz Lipmann Lectureship, which is given to someone who has made substantial and influential advancements in biochemistry. He was awarded this due to his research on RNA biochemistry. The award includes a $3,000 prize and funding to present at the Experimental Biology conference in Boston.[8]

Personal life[edit]

Uhlenbeck's father was theoretical physicist George Uhlenbeck. He was married to Karen Uhlenbeck between 1965 and 1976.[15] John F. Milligan, a colleague of Uhlenbeck's, said that he appreciated the conversations they had as he developed into a scientist. He also said that Uhlenbeck taught him how to be a leader by showing him what it meant to be engaged in research and how to be intellectually curious. This was said by Milligan after his time working in the Uhlenbeck lab at the CU Boulder.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Faculty". 21 August 2018.
  2. ^ a b "Northwestern University Department of Molecular Biosciences The Uhlenbeck Lab Research". groups.molbiosci.northwestern.edu. Retrieved 2020-04-18.
  3. ^ "Olke C. Uhlenbeck". Northwestern University. Retrieved 2021-05-06.
  4. ^ Milligan, John F.; Groebe, Duncan R.; Witherell, Gary W.; Uhlenbeck, Olke C. (1987). "Oligoribonucleotide synthesis using T7 RNA polymerase and synthetic DNA templates". Nucleic Acids Research. 15 (21): 8783–98. doi:10.1093/nar/15.21.8783. PMC 306405. PMID 3684574.
  5. ^ "An Imperfect Account of the Founding of the RNA Society". The RNA society.
  6. ^ a b c d "$1 million gift to BioFrontiers Institute to aid graduate students". CU Boulder Today. 2016-07-29. Retrieved 2020-04-18.
  7. ^ Uhlenbeck, Olke C.; Baller, Julie; Doty, Paul (1970). "Complementary Oligonucleotide Binding to the Anticodon Loop of fMet-transfer RNA". Nature. 225 (5232): 508–10. Bibcode:1970Natur.225..508U. doi:10.1038/225508a0. PMID 5411856. S2CID 91936.
  8. ^ a b "Renowned researcher Uhlenbeck wins Lipmann lectureship for work on RNA biochemistry". www.asbmb.org. Retrieved 2020-04-18.
  9. ^ Uhlenbeck, OLKE; Harrison, RICHARD; Doty, PAUL (1968-01-01), Pullman, BERNARD (ed.), "Some Effects on Noncomplementary Bases on the Stability of Helical Complexes of Polyribonucleotides**This work was supported by the National Science Foundation grant (GB-4563).", Molecular Associations in Biology, Academic Press, pp. 107–114, doi:10.1016/b978-0-12-395638-5.50011-2, ISBN 978-0-12-395638-5, retrieved 2020-04-18
  10. ^ Tinoco, Ignacio; Uhlenbeck, Olke C.; Levine, Mark D. (1971). "Estimation of Secondary Structure in Ribonucleic Acids". Nature. 230 (5293): 362–7. Bibcode:1971Natur.230..362T. doi:10.1038/230362a0. PMID 4927725. S2CID 4283534.
  11. ^ Milligan, John F.; Groebe, Duncan R.; Witherell, Gary W.; Uhlenbeck, Olke C. (1987). "Oligoribonucleotide synthesis using T7 RNA polymerase and synthetic DNA templates". Nucleic Acids Research. 15 (21): 8783–8798. doi:10.1093/nar/15.21.8783. ISSN 0305-1048. PMC 306405. PMID 3684574.
  12. ^ Romaniuk, Paul J.; Lowary, Peggy; Wu, Huey Nan; Stormo, Gary; Uhlenbeck, Olke C. (1987-03-01). "RNA binding site of R17 coat protein". Biochemistry. 26 (6): 1563–1568. doi:10.1021/bi00380a011. ISSN 0006-2960. PMID 3297131.
  13. ^ Uhlenbeck, Olke C; Schrader, Jared M (October 2018). "Evolutionary tuning impacts the design of bacterial tRNAs for the incorporation of unnatural amino acids by ribosomes". Current Opinion in Chemical Biology. 46: 138–145. doi:10.1016/j.cbpa.2018.07.016. ISSN 1367-5931. PMC 6601615. PMID 30059836.
  14. ^ "Olke Uhlenbeck". www.nasonline.org. Retrieved 2020-04-18.
  15. ^ Allyn Jackson (2018). "Interview with Karen Uhlenbeck". Celebratio Mathematica.