SCOL Project: Origins of Life Systems Chemistry
The central goal of this project is to understand the processes by which chemistry gave rise to biology on the early Earth. This transition is envisaged as taking place in two phases. In the first, systems level chemistry results in the synthesis of the informational, catalytic and compartment-forming molecules thought necessary for the emergence of life. In the second, these molecules become assembled into higher order structures and functioning networks with selectivity and fidelity maintained by energy-dissipative recycling. We hypothesize that the major cellular sub-systems — metabolism, replication, catalysis and compartmentalization — emerged together and co-evolved, and we are seeking to refute or verify this hypothesis through experimentation.
John Sutherland studied chemistry at the University of Oxford and then spent a spell as a Kennedy Scholar at Harvard with Jeremy Knowles. Upon return to the U.K., he carried out his doctoral work with Jack Baldwin at Oxford and then stayed in Oxford first as a junior research fellow and then as a university lecturer in organic chemistry. In 1998 he took a chair in biological chemistry at Manchester, and in 2010 moved to the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge as a group leader. He is interested in chemistry associated with the origin of life and, along with his research group, has made contributions in the areas of prebiotic nucleotide, amino acid and lipid synthesis and RNA chemistry.