The Origins of Life
Proposed pathway for cell synthesis (click to enlarge)
It is generally accepted that life in its present form — with proteins performing most enzymatic functions and nucleic acids comprising the genetic material — was preceded by a period in which nucleic acid, either RNA or a closely related polymer, filled both roles.
The laboratory is utilizing a diverse array of molecular biological and chemical tools to create model systems for the study of the origin of life. The main goals are:
- to establish a system for the replication of nucleic acids that does not rely on proteins
- to establish physical and chemical methods for the growth and division of fatty acid vesicles
- to encapsulate a replicating nucleic acid system in fatty acid vesicles to create protocells
- to subject protocells to Darwinian selection in order to understand the evolution of complex metabolism
The Szostak Lab has participated in the development of a web site exploring the origins of life in parallel with its own research goals on the origins and development of the first living cells on Earth. “Exploring Life’s Origins” describes current research on the beginnings of life to a broad nontechnical audience using three-dimensional molecular visualizations. The website is part of a multimedia exhibit on the origins of life at the Boston Museum of Science.
Click here to see the web presentation created by Janet Iwasa of the Szostak Lab.