Gerald Joyce, M.D., Ph.D.

Professor of Chemistry and Molecular Biology and Investigator, Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology, Scripps Research Institute

Project: “Self-Sustained Evolution of RNA”

Biological systems are distinguishable from chemical systems because they have a molecular memory (genotype), which is shaped by experience (selection) and maintained by self-reproduction. For life to arise from chemistry, as is thought to have occurred on the primitive Earth, it must organize into such an information-generating system. Our project involves experimental studies that seek to determine the minimum amount of information required to provide replicating, evolving systems that have the ongoing capacity to accrue more information. The research aims to cross the threshold where the amount of heritable information exceeds the amount of information that is required to initiate the system’s operation.


Gerald F. Joyce is a Professor in the Department of Chemistry, and an Investigator of the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology, at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. He received his B.A. from the University of Chicago in 1978 and both an M.D. and Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego in 1984. He carried out postgraduate medical training at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego and postdoctoral research training at The Salk Institute before joining the faculty of The Scripps Research Institute in 1989.

Dr. 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.

Dr. Joyce has published over 130 scientific papers and is the inventor of 11 issued patents. He was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 2001 and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2012. In 2005 he received the H.C. Urey Award, presented every six years by the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life; in 2009 he received the Dannie Heineman Prize, presented every two years by the Göttingen Academy of Sciences; and in 2010 he received the U.S. National Academy of Sciences Miller Medal, presented every five years in association with the Award for Early Earth and Life Sciences. Dr. Joyce has lectured extensively around the world, including at the Pontifical Academy and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

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