Origins of Life: Synthesis of RNA polymer from prebiotically relevant molecules

How to Apply

Interested in participating in this research project? Contact the professor or graduate student listed below.


Dr. Nita Sahai (Polymer Science) |

Graduate Student

Trishool Namani |

Project Description

The Earth is about 4.56 billion years old and the earliest evidence of life is at approximately 3.8 billion years ago. How life originated from a planet composed of only minerals, dissolved elements, and simple organic molecules is one of the great questions of scientific inquiry. Life requires complex biomolecules, such as proteins, RNA and DNA, to maintain a cell and for reproduction. The origin of such biomolecules in the prebiotic world is an important step in understanding the origin and evolution of life on the Earth. One of the greatest arguments in the Origins of Life scientific community is, which biopolymer evolved first, proteins or RNA? Proteins and even short peptides can show significant catalytic properties. Furthermore, amino acids are ubiquitous on the early Earth, which supports the argument that proteins evolved first. However, proteins do not have the ability to carry information, which is required for replication and biological evolution. Hence, the laternative theory of the “RNA world” gained much significance, as some RNA molecules can both carry information and show catalytic properties. However, it remains unclear as to how the first RNA molecule formed.  In extant life, proteins are synthesized by RNA and RNA is produced by the proteins. Thus, there is a mutual cooperativity between these biopolymers. The current research aims to explore how biomolecules such as amino acids, nucleotides and lipids may have cooperatively evolved into complex biopolymers in the presence minerals. In this project, we experiment with various plausible prebiotic molecular mixtures for the potential synthesis of RNA polymers under simulated prebiotic enviornment.

Project Dates

Spring 2020, Summer 2020 or Fall 2020

Search Terms

Microbiology, Biomimicry, Origins of Life Research, STEM