Regents' Professor, School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Director, NSF Center for Chemical Evolution, Associate Director, Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience Georgia Tech
Letting Chemistry be Our Guide on a Journey Far Back in Time: A Brief Overview of a Decade of Discoveries Enabled by the NSF-NASA Center for Chemical Evolution
The research in our laboratory is directed towards elucidating the fundamental chemical and physical principles that govern nucleic acid (RNA and DNA) assembly. We are interested in how the physical properties of nucleic acids govern biological functions in contemporary life, and how these same properties provide clues to the origin and early evolution of life. We are also applying our knowledge of nucleic acids to problems that are of current importance in medicine and biotechnology. Specific projects include investigations of: 1) the origin and evolution of RNA; 2) cation, solvent and small molecule interactions with nucleic acids; 3) nucleic acid condensation and packaging; and 4) folding and evolution of the ribosome. Our research involves the application of a wide variety of physical and chemical techniques.
Ten years ago the NSF-NASA Center for Chemical Evolution (CCE) was established with the ambitious research goal of determining the identity and origins of the molecules that gave rise to life on Earth. CCE researchers were guided by a common hypothesis; The molecules that gave rise to life are similar, but not identical, to those found in life today. Results from a decade of highly collaborative investigations have provided substantial support for this hypothesis and revealed plausible candidates for the first molecules and key chemical reactions of life. Along this path experimental results continuously refined and adjusted our perception of the chemistry that facilitated the emergence of life – always in a direction that was more interesting than we had imagined.