SCOL Project: Prebiotic Chemistry and Origin of Homochirality
The search to delineate the chemistry of life’s origin involves consideration of the type of molecules that might have existed on prebiotic earth. Emerging at some point along the pathway to life is the property of single chirality that is the hallmark of the amino acids and sugars present in biological molecules. The 20th century witnessed the development of abstract, mathematical theses for the origin of biomolecular homochirality from a presumably racemic collection of prebiotic molecules. Before the end of that century, a number of basic features of these theoretical models had been successfully corroborated with experimental findings, but these studies involved chemical systems lacking direct prebiotic relevance. Present day investigations aim to examine prebiotically plausible conditions that couple chemical and physical processes leading to single chirality of sugars and amino acids with subsequent chemical reactions that provide enhanced molecular complexity.
Donna G Blackmond received the PhD in Chemical Engineering from Carnegie-Mellon University in 1984. She was a professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh from 1984-1992. In 1992, she left academia for industrial research, becoming an Associate Director at Merck & Co., Inc., where she was responsible for the setting up of a new laboratory for research and development in the kinetics and catalysis of organic reactions. From 1996-99 Professor Blackmond was a Research Group Leader at the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung in Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany. She moved to the United Kingdom in 1999 to take up the position of Professor and Chair of Physical Chemistry at the University of Hull. She joined the faculty at Imperial College London in 2004, with joint professorial appointments in the Departments of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering & Chemical Technology as well as the Chair in Catalysis. In 2010 she moved to The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California as Professor of Chemistry. Professor Blackmond’s research focuses on blending the quantitative aspects of her chemical engineering background together with the synthesis of complex organic molecules by catalytic routes, particularly asymmetric catalysis with application in pharmaceutical processes. She also carries out fundamental experimental and theoretical investigations on the chemical origin of life.
She serves as a consultant to a number of major pharmaceutical companies, and she offers a short course on the kinetics of organic reactions in the pharmaceutical industry. Professor Blackmond received the 2009 Royal Society of Chemistry Award in Physical Organic Chemistry. She was awarded a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award in 2007. She received an Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award from the Organic Chemistry Division of the American Chemical Society (2005). She was a Woodward Visiting Scholar at Harvard University (2002-2003) and a Miller Institute Research Fellow at University of California, Berkeley (2003). She received the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Award in Process Technology (2003), the North American Catalysis Society’s Paul H. Emmett Award (2001), the Organic Reactions Catalysis Society’s Raul Rylander Award (2003), and the NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award (1986-91). She was recently elected to the US National Academy of Engineering.