Rochester, Minnesota




The laboratory of Jim Maher, Ph.D., has broad interests in the fundamental properties of DNA and RNA molecules, their interactions with proteins, and the use of vast libraries, made up of trillions of random nucleic acid strands, to solve problems in chemistry and biology. His Nucleic Acid Structure and Recognition Laboratory also studies the biochemistry of rare cancers caused by metabolic defects.

Focus areas

  • DNA flexibility. Double-stranded DNA is among the stiffest polymers in nature, yet it must be tightly bent and looped in cells. Dr. Maher's lab studies the origin of DNA stiffness, how proteins enhance its flexibility and how DNA loops can be engineered for artificial gene control.
  • Tools based on folded DNA and RNA shapes. Dr. Maher's research team studies how short DNA and RNA molecules can be selected from libraries of trillions of random molecules to solve problems in biology. Examples include studying the tight binding and inhibition of proteins, exploring the ability to trigger new cell responses, enhancing drug delivery, and even identifying molecules that can sneak into subcellular compartments in living cells. These concepts are being applied to neurodegenerative diseases and cancer.
  • Paraganglioma. Dr. Maher's lab uses cells and model organisms to better understand the biochemical basis for human familial paraganglioma. This cancer can be caused by a defect in energy metabolism.

Significance to patient care

Investigation in Dr. Maher's lab combines basic research with translational research. Researchers learn how biological systems work and apply that basic understanding to diseases such as multiple sclerosis and cancer, where current approaches can be improved. History teaches that the revolutionary discoveries that transform health care often come from the research of curious scientists studying problems seemingly unrelated to human health and disease.

Professional highlights

  • Director, Post-baccalaureate Research Education Program, Mayo Clinic, 2004-present.
  • Co-director, Initiative for Maximizing Student Development, Mayo Clinic, 2004-present.
  • Associate editor, Nucleic Acids Research journal, 1995-present.
  • Mayo Clinic Distinguished Educator Award, 2021.
  • Elected fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2020.
  • Dean, Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, 2012-2019.
  • Bernard Pollack Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Mayo Clinic, 2015.
  • Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, 2004-2011.


Primary Appointment

  1. Consultant, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Academic Rank

  1. Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology


  1. Postdoctoral Training - Molecular Biology/Chemistry. Advisors: Peter B. Dervan and Barbara Wold. Research Area: nucleic acid triple helices California Institute of Technology
  2. PhD - Molecular Biology. Advisor: Bruce J. Dolnick. Thesis title: "Antisense oligonucleotides and oligonucleoside methylphosphonates as inhibitors of eukaryotic mRNA translation" University of Wisconsin, Madison
  3. BS - Molecular Biology (Honors) University of Wisconsin, Madison

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