John S. Mattick

John Mattick is Professor of RNA Biology at UNSW Sydney. He was previously the Chief Executive of Genomics England, Director of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, and Director of the Institute for Molecular Bioscience and the Australian Genome Research Facility at the University of Queensland.

Professor Mattick is well known for his work showing that the majority of the human genome is not junk but rather specifies an RNA regulatory system that organises our development. He has published over 300 research articles and reviews, which have been cited over 70,000 times. His work has received editorial coverage in Nature, Science, Scientific American, New Scientist and the New York Times.

Professor Mattick was appointed Officer in the Order of Australia (AO) and received the Centenary Medal for his services to molecular biology. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, the Australian Academy of Health & Medical Sciences, and the Australian Academy of Technology & Engineering. He is also an Associate Member of the European Molecular Biology Organization. He has received numerous awards including Honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia, the Lemberg Medal of the Australian Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Medal, the Human Genome Organization Chen Medal for Distinguished Achievement in Human Genetics and Genomic Research, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center Bertner Award for Distinguished Contributions to Cancer Research. In 2019 he was listed among the top 1,000 scientists globally.

Professor Mattick was the inaugural Gutenberg Chair. His project, which was conducted in the laboratory of Professor Eric Westhof at IBMC at the University of Strasbourg, was “Discovery of regulatory and catalytic RNAs in metazoan genomes using RNA tertiary structure motifs.” This work was focussed on understanding the structure-function relationships in RNAs, of which Professor Westhof is a world authority and which is one of the great challenges of contemporary molecular biology. Subsequently, Professor Mattick and colleagues demonstrated that long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) associate with chromatin and chromatin-modifying enzymes, indicating that some (and indeed many) lncRNAs function as guides for the epigenetic control of development. They showed that lncRNAs exhibit precise and highly restricted expression patterns and subcellular localization in the brain. They identified lncRNAs that are dynamically regulated during stem cell, neuronal, muscle and mammary gland development, as well as tiny RNAs associated with transcription and splice sites, and new classes of small RNAs derived from small nucleolar RNAs. They also showed that at least 20% of the human genome is conserved at the level of RNA structure, and that regulatory exons in mRNAs and lncRNAs are near-universally alternatively spliced, indicating their functional modularity. His work is currently focussed on understanding the role of lncRNAs in the brain and identifying the link between modular domains in lncRNAs and effector proteins.