Matthew Powner, Ph.D.

Reader, Department of Organic Chemistry, University College London

SCOL Project: Divergent Multicomponent Assembly of Biochemical Species at the Origin of Life

Although extant cellular life consists of an intriguingly small constellation of closely related molecules the function of the individual biological components cannot be appreciated in isolation. Therefore, it must also follow that the generation (and function) of biochemical species at the origin of life will require a concerted and, ideally, unified investigation. Specifically, we seek to advance the undeveloped potential of organosulfur chemistry and multicomponent reactivity in abiogenesis, whilst exploring the fundamental generational links between the essential molecular components of biology. Rather than attributing functional importance to any one class of metabolite (such as RNA in the RNA World hypothesis) concomitant analyses of the chemical constituents of biology and, importantly, their biochemical activation towards macromolecular assembly are being undertaken to explore the unified generational links between conserved classes of metabolites. We seek to concurrently address several key research themes: divergent and multicomponent synthesis, ambident reactivity, latent and traceless activation, general acid-base catalysis, photochemistry and phosphoryl-transfer chemistry.

Matthew Powner is a lecturer of organic chemistry and chemical biology and EPSRC Research Fellow at University College London. Dr. Powner obtained a masters degree in chemistry at the University of Manchester before completing a Medicinal Chemistry internship at AstraZeneca. He returned to the University of Manchester to undertake doctoral studies, working with Prof. John Sutherland. After completing his PhD, Matthew continued his research at Manchester as an EPSRC PhD-Plus fellow, before being awarded a Harvard Origins Research Fellowship to work in the laboratory of Prof. Jack Szostak at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. He has recently been awarded the first ISSOL Stanley Miller Award (2011) and the SET for Britain Roscoe Medal (2012), and was joint winner of the Origin of Life Challenge (2012) and recipient of an EPSRC Research Fellowship (2013).

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