Thomas O’Brien, Ph.D.

Professor Emeritus

Dr. Thomas O'Brien

Research:  Structure, function and evolution of mammalian mitochondrial ribosomes
Ph.D., Marquette University, 1964

Contact Information:
     Telephone: 352-256-1532 (cell); 352-372-7991 (home)


Professor O’Brien earned his Ph.D. in physiology and biochemistry at Marquette University in 1964 for his work on the thyroid hormone control of mitochondrial content. He discovered mitochondrial ribosomes as a Postdoctoral Fellow working with Dr. G.F. Kalf. Dr. O’Brien joined the University in 1966. He was a NATO Senior Science Fellow, an EMBO Research Fellow, a Visiting Scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics, Berlin, Germany, and a Visiting Scientist at the University of California Santa Cruz. From 1980 to 1982 he was Interim Chairman of our Department. From 1982 to 1987, he was founding co-Director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Biotechnology Research. Dr. O’Brien was elected as President of the Mitochondria Research Society.


Our laboratory has developed the bovine mitochondrial ribosome as a model system to address several questions related to the structure, function, biosynthesis and evolution of these interesting ribosomes. Chromosomal localization of human mitoribosomal genes is important for those mitoribosome proteins involved in genetic disease. Coordinate synthesis of the 85 different mitoribosomal proteins (nuclear gene products) with the mitochondrial ribosomal RNA (a mitochondrial gene product) is under investigation. Two of the mitochondrial ribosomal proteins, MRPS29 and MRPS30, may also may be involved in apoptosis. The mitochondrial mRNAs are highly structured and special initiation factors are required to translate these unusual messages.