The research laboratory of Jim Maher, Ph.D., studies the nucleic acids DNA and RNA. Dr. Maher's research team works to understand how the locally stiff DNA molecule is bent and looped by proteins, and how this bending is involved in the control of gene expression. The lab's studies involve bacterial, yeast and mammalian systems, as well as artificial systems of nucleic acids and proteins engineered to test basic principles.

The lab also studies how unnatural DNA and RNA molecules can be selected from random libraries for the ability to tightly bind and inhibit proteins on and in living cells. This work seeks to develop new approaches to artificial gene regulation in diseases such as cancer, and to find new ways to provoke cell regeneration. Example applications include the inhibition of specific transcription factors and the stimulation of remyelination and regeneration in neurodegenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

The Nucleic Acid Structure and Recognition Lab also works to understand the biochemistry of cancers such as paraganglioma and glioblastoma where aberrant metabolism may play a key role in tumor growth and therapy.

Research interests

  • Understanding DNA bending and looping by proteins
  • Exploring small folded RNAs and DNAs as artificial tools for regenerative medicine and gene regulation
  • Understanding the biochemistry of metabolite imbalance in cancer

Training opportunities

Education, training and mentorship are vital components of the research activities in the Nucleic Acid Structure and Recognition Lab. Dr. Maher serves as a mentor for multiple training programs at Mayo Clinic and as the co-director for two minority training grant positions.


The Maher lab is affiliated with several Mayo Clinic research areas:

About Dr. Maher

Dr. Maher is a biochemist and molecular biologist at Mayo Clinic and professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in Rochester, Minnesota. His research is focused on studying the origin and biological management of DNA stiffness, combinatorial selection of folded DNA and RNA molecules as tools and therapies, and unusual cancers that are caused by defects in cell metabolism. Maher is an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, dean emeritus of Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and a mentor who enjoys coaching students toward research careers.