David Horning, PhD, is a research associate in the Joyce Laboratory at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI). In 2012, with the support of the Fannie and John Foundation Fellowship, he received his PhD in biotechnology from TSRI. David’s thesis, "Evolving Ribozymes to Make RNA Aptamers", detailed a new approach to develop an RNA enzyme that can copy RNA. This “replicase” could make any RNA enzyme, including itself, and could be used to form the core of RNA-based synthetic life. Although RNA enzymes exist that can copy short RNA sequences, none are active enough to copy the sequences of most (typically longer) RNA enzymes. The new method uses directed Darwinian evolution to adapt these enzymes to make much longer functional RNA sequences.
David is currently continuing as a postdoc at TSRI, using the method he developed to evolve RNA enzymes that can copy a variety of functional RNA sequences. In August 2016, along with his colleagues at TSRI, David published as first-author paper detailing the RNA replicating scientific breakthrough that he had been investigating. Their findings, reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), titled "Amplification of RNA by an RNA Polymerase Ribozyme", support key aspects of the widely accepted “RNA World” hypothesis, in which single-stranded RNA molecules are thought to have constituted one of the earliest forms of life – if not the earliest form of life -- some 4 billion years ago. In the longer term, David plans to continue in academic research, studying both the origin of life and synthetic biology.