Hartig Group

Chemical and Synthetic Biology of Nucleic Acids

We develop simpler and more precise gene switches: they don’t need transcription factors, because they’re part of the protein-coding RNA.
Prof. Dr. Jörg Hartig

An Unusual Perspective on Nucleic Acids

When it comes to Lego, strangely-shaped blocks are often the most interesting. They enable you to think up whole new constructions and formerly impossible functions and designs suddenly become possible. It’s the same with nature’s molecular building blocks. Nucleic acids can also adopt unusual structures and functions with special characteristics, such as genetic switches that respond to small metabolites.

Prof. Jörg Hartig’s team researches such unusual structures and characteristics of nucleic acids, particularly catalytically active RNA (ribozymes) and RNA-based genetic switches (riboswitches). “In nature, RNAs have evolved that bind specifically to a variety of small molecular ligands” explains Jörg Hartig. “We are aiming at discovering novel riboswitches. Building on these unusual nucleic acids, we then engineer artificial, RNA-based gene switches which make it possible to re-program natural biological systems.” Amongst other things, his team has succeeded in developing an RNA-based gene switch which is able to control oncolytic viruses. For his research on riboswitches, Jörg Hartig has received an ERC Consolidator grant in 2015.

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