Sheref S. Mansy, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Biochemistry, Università degli studi di Trento

SCOL Project: The origins of Fe-S clusters

Contemporary biology is dependent upon the function of Fe-S clusters in electron transfer and catalysis.  The prevalence of iron and sulfur on Earth, the ability of iron and sulfur to easily assemble into complexes, and the pervasiveness of Fe-S proteins across all Kingdoms of life has lead to the hypothesis that Fe-S complexes were among life’s first catalysts.  Thus far, experimental research on the role of Fe-S clusters in the origins of life has focused on Fe-S containing minerals and specific geological settings rich in iron and sulfur, namely hydrothermal vents.  However, hydrothermal vent conditions may not be well suited for many of the steps necessary for the emergence of life.  We will explore the compatibility between a series of model prebiotic conditions with Fe-S cluster assembly on a series of prebiotically plausible scaffolds.  The identified Fe-S complexes will then be evaluated for catalytic activity.

Sheref studied at Ohio State University where he worked on Fe-S cluster biosynthesis with J. A. Cowan. Subsequently he focused on building model protocellular systems with J. W. Szostak at Massachusetts General Hospital. He used an Armenise-Harvard career development award to setup a laboratory at the University of Trento that investigates cellular mimics. Sheref is a 2012 TEDGlobal fellow.

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