In this lecture, Gerald Joyce focuses on the perpetuation of genetic information as a defining characteristic of life. He draws a connection between digital computers (von Neumann machines), especially those with the capacity to self-reproduce, and molecular Darwinian systems that maintain heritable ‘bits’ of information, which are refined through evolution. Such molecular machines have been constructed in the laboratory and are able to reproduce themselves indefinitely.
Joyce is professor of chemistry and molecular biology, and an investigator at the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California.
Joyce’s research involves the test-tube evolution of nucleic acids and the application of these methods to the development of novel RNA and DNA enzymes. He also has a longstanding interest in the origins of life and the role of RNA in the early history of life on Earth. His laboratory recently described the first example, outside of biology, of a self-replicating molecule that is capable of undergoing Darwinian evolution. This so-called ‘immortal molecule’ has been the subject of extensive news coverage, including by The New York Times, Scientific American, CNN and the BBC.
Joyce received his M.D. and Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego in 1984.