MSI Conference Room
A fundamental question of science is how nucleic acids first assembled and then were incorporated into the earliest forms of cellular life 3.5 – 4 billion years ago. However, in the absence of enzymes and metabolism there has been no obvious way for RNA-like molecules to be produced and then encapsulated in cellular compartments, an essential first step in the origin of cellular life. The question of life’s origin has also recently become of critical practical importance in light of the intense scientific effort that is being invested in the search for life elsewhere in our Solar System and beyond, and with NASA’s recent ground-breaking discovery of 3 habitable Earth like planets. The new, CFI funded Origins of Life Laboratory at McMaster University will test and challenge the hypothesis of how RNA could have formed under prebiotic conditions similar to the early Earth, Mars and other newly discovered Earth-like planets. The lab enables a comprehensive research program, from the preparation and advanced characterization of nucleic acid samples to the quantitative determination of RNA products and molecular structure determination and computer simulations. At the heart of the laboratory is a planetary simulation chamber to model early planetary environments (atmospheric gases, planetary materials, temperatures, pressures, humidity, irradiation) and enable fast and controlled cycling of these parameters. I will talk about the design and capabilities of this new facility and present first results how nucleotides organize in different environments and form RNA-like polymers.