Wednesday, October 19, 2005


NSF Grant Funds Emergence of Life Project

Kansas' Connie Morris, famously, is a little confused about the pre-biotic soup, but that may now all be cleared up for her. According to a news release issued by the Santa Fe Institute, the National Science Foundation has announced that the Santa Fe Institute (SFI) -- along with collaborating institutions George Mason University, University of Colorado, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Arizona State, and Carnegie Institution of Washington -- has been awarded a five-year Frontiers in Integrative Biological Research (FIBR) grant for their joint project, "The Emergence of Life: from Geochemistry to the Genetic Code."

This FIBR project will inject a broad array of novel theory and experimental data into the debate on the origin of life, involving an integrated approach that brings together microbiology, geochemistry, physics, biochemistry, computer simulation and a modern understanding of complex dynamical systems to provide, for the first time, a coherent account of the evolution of metabolism and the development of the modern genetic code. The project team will formulate and test an integrated theory of the early stages in the emergence of life from abiotic chemistry. The unifying premise of this theory is that robust core pathways and molecular associations were the statistically favored result of geochemical processes on the early Earth, which can be reconstructed computationally and in the laboratory.

During the last decade or so, the origins issue has become more pressing, with the exploration of space and of extreme or remote terrestrial environments on Earth. These spectacular endeavors have highlighted the need for a better understanding of the very definition of life and its detection from metabolic activity or other environmental effects, and have brought to the fore the notion that life may be more robust and widespread than previously recognized, at least on Earth, and potentially elsewhere too.

Stimulation of debate on the chemical origins of life based on data and theory developed in this project will have significant broader impact throughout biology and beyond, in areas such as geochemistry, chemical biology, evolutionary theory, and paleobiology. The project will involve interdisciplinary training of students and the outcome will be disseminated to a broad audience. At the end of the project, a symposium will be organized to summarize its outcome and provide an overview of modern biogenesis, and its broader implications for the prebiotic origins of life.


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