Professor Thomas Preiss

Dipl Chem (Marburg University, Germany) PhD (University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK), Habilitation (Heidelberg University, Germany)
Director - Shine-Dalgarno Centre for RNA Innovation
ANU College of Health and Medicine

Areas of expertise

  • Gene Expression (Incl. Microarray And Other Genome Wide Approaches) 060405
  • Epigenetics (Incl. Genome Methylation And Epigenomics) 060404
  • Systems Biology 060114
  • Proteomics And Intermolecular Interactions (Excl. Medical Proteomics) 060109
  • Cell Metabolism 060104
  • Bioinformatics 060102
  • Mycology 060505
  • Cell Development, Proliferation And Death 060103
  • Enzymes 060107
  • Cardiology (Incl. Cardiovascular Diseases) 110201
  • Cancer Cell Biology 111201

Research interests

Prof Preiss is a molecular biologist determining the mechanisms and transcriptome-wide patterns of eukaryotic mRNA translation as one of life’s core processes and its regulation by RNA-binding proteins and non-coding RNA as a means of controlling gene activity. He joined the translational control field in 1995 as a postdoctoral scientist and has since had a particular focus on mechanisms of translation initiation using yeast and mammalian cells and cell-free translation systems as his preferred models. In addition to his mechanistic work, he also studies global patterns of post-transcriptional control using microarray and next gen sequencing-based methods. After starting his own group he continued to investigate the role of the mRNA cap and poly(A) tail and associated protein factors in determining mRNA utilisation. These studies overlap with work on the discovery of miRNA targets and the unravelling of their mechanism of action. Employing next gen sequencing technology (RNAseq) his group is further pursuing interests in the area of RNA (mRNA, miRNA, tRNA, other noncoding RNA) processing, modification, polyadenylation and utilisation.


From 1986-91 Thomas Preiss studied Chemistry at the Philipps-Universität, Marburg (Germany) and the University of Bristol (UK), followed by PhD work (1992-95) at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne (UK). He spent the next seven years (1995-2002) as a postdoctoral scientist at the European Molecular Biology Laboratories (EMBL), Heidelberg (Germany), in parallel also completing his Habilitation in Biochemistry [Permission to teach at the professorial level] at the Medical Faculty of the Universität Heidelberg (Germany). In 2002 he became a laboratory head at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute in Sydney and held conjoint appointments at the University of New South Wales (Senior Lecturer, then Associate Professor). In 2011 he accepted a position as Professor of RNA Biology at ANU/JCSMR. Since 2022 he is the inaugural Director of the ANU Shine-Dalgarno Centre for RNA Innovation.

Researcher's projects

1. microRNAs are gene regulators with critical roles in heart disease. We focus on how interactions between microRNAs and their messenger RNA targets change during disease with a particualr emphasis on analysing the contribution of processing of microRNAs and targets.

2. The research successes of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry have given us detailed pictures of the regulatory and metabolic states of cells and tissues, yet we know little about how these states affect each other. We use next generation sequencing (NGS) and mass spectrometry to investigate the possible existence of regulatory interactions between ribonucleic acids, enzymes and metabolites to connect gene expression and metabolism.

3. The role of the modified base 5-methylcytosine (m5C) as an epigenetic mark in DNA is well appreciated and intensely studied. By comparison, the cellular functions of the same base modification in RNA molecules are poorly understood. We are applying NGS technology to chart the occurrence of m5C in eukaryotic cellular RNAs and endeavour to unravel its function(s) for different classes of RNA.

4. Messenger ribonucleic acids (mRNA) act as templates for protein synthesis by ribosomes. Much like the DNA of genes, eukaryotic mRNA molecules do not exist as ‘naked’ nucleic acid. They interact with RNA-binding proteins, ribosomes and translation factors, and adopt dynamic structures that determine the precise outcome of translation. We combine NGS technology with isolation of polyribosomal complexes from living cells, to generate transcriptome-wide snapshots of the distribution of translation complexes along mRNAs. Such systems-level data will allow unprecedented insight into the mechanism, dynamics and regulation of protein synthesis.

Available student projects

The RNA Biology Lab focuses on understanding the mechanisms and transcriptome-wide patterns of eukaryotic mRNA translation and its regulation by RNA-binding proteins and non-coding RNA. Central to the work is the ‘closed-loop’ model of translation, which posits that the cap and poly(A) tail ends of the mRNA come together for efficient initiation. We were the first to discover that miRNAs target key components of the mRNA closed-loop for repression and we continue to investigate the molecular componentry of the miRNA mechanism. We are further applying next generation sequencing methods to study transcriptome-wide patterns of mRNA and miRNA expression, processing, as well as mRNA translation state, tail length and nucleoside modification.

Openings for Honours and PhD projects exist in several of these programmes and students joining the lab will have the opportunity to develop their research together with Prof Preiss and senior members of his group.

Current student projects

1. Messenger RNA and microRNA processing diversity in cardiac biology

2. Gene regulation through interactions between RNA, enzymes and metabolites

3. The role of 5-methylcytosine as a modification of RNA in cancer

4. Tracking factor footprints to reveal the intricacy and control of translation initiation

Projects can be devised to suit PhD or Honours/Masters level students.


Projects and Grants

Grants information is drawn from ARIES. To add or update Projects or Grants information please contact your College Research Office.

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Updated:  18 July 2024 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers