Exploring the origins of life

Keller cover image_squareSarah Keller, working with Roy Black, affiliate professor of bioengineering, has helped to unravel some of the mystery surrounding the origin of cells in Earth’s ancient oceans. The work, recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describes the unexpected interaction of the chemical components of RNA and fatty acids and their role in stabilizing the precursors to cellular membranes.

The chemical components crucial to the start of life on Earth may have primed and protected each other in never-before-realized ways. That could mean a simpler scenario for how that first spark of life on the planet came about. Scientists have long thought that life started when the right combination of bases and sugars produced self-replicating ribonucleic acid, or RNA, inside a rudimentary ‘cell’ composed of fatty acids. Under the right conditions, fatty acids naturally form into bag-like structures similar to today’s cell membranes. In testing one of the fatty acids representative of those found before life began – decanoic acid – Keller and Black discovered that the four bases in RNA bound more readily to the decanoic acid than did the other seven bases tested. By concentrating more of the bases and sugar that are the building blocks of RNA, the system would have been primed for the next steps, reactions that led to RNA inside a bag.

Descriptions of the published research can be found on the UW News website and on Babbage, the science and technology blog of The Economist.

To learn more about Professor Keller, visit her faculty page and research group website.

Charles Campbell is the recipient of the 2013 Robert Burwell Lectureship in Catalysis

Charles_Campbell_BurwellCharles Camp­bell, Professor and B. Seymour Rabinovitch Endowed Chair in Chemistry, is the recip­i­ent of the 2013 Robert Bur­well Lec­ture­ship in Catal­y­sis of the North Amer­i­can Catal­y­sis Soci­ety, spon­sored by John­son Matthey.

The Robert Bur­well Lec­ture­ship in Catal­y­sis is given in recog­ni­tion of sub­stan­tial con­tri­bu­tions to one or more areas in the field of catal­y­sis with empha­sis on dis­cov­ery and under­stand­ing of cat­alytic phe­nom­ena, cat­alytic reac­tion mech­a­nisms and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and descrip­tion of cat­alytic sites and species.

Pro­fes­sor Camp­bell is being rec­og­nized for “bridg­ing the gap between sur­face sci­ence and catal­y­sis, for devel­op­ing new con­cepts and tools in both dis­ci­plines, and for his service to both com­mu­ni­ties as Editor-in-Chief of Sur­face Sci­ence. His knowl­edge and his con­tri­bu­tions over the last three decades have encom­passed enor­mous depth and breadth. He has made sem­i­nal con­tri­bu­tions in (1) devel­op­ing meth­ods to mea­sure surface bond ener­gies, specif­i­cally calorime­try using an appa­ra­tus devel­oped by his research group and which cur­rently ranks as the most sen­si­tive heat detec­tion tool for the study of model cat­a­lysts; (2) accu­rate mea­sure­ments of the bind­ing of metal atoms and nanoparticles to oxides, which has led to mech­a­nis­tic approaches and fun­da­men­tal treatments of cat­a­lyst sin­ter­ing; (3) advanc­ing and using micro­ki­netic treat­ments of cat­alytic reac­tions, espe­cially by pro­vid­ing many clas­sic exam­ples of how sur­face sci­ence can con­tribute to the under­stand­ing of cat­alytic mech­a­nisms; and (4) for­mal­iz­ing the con­cept of ‘the degree of rate con­trol’ to assess the extent to which indi­vid­ual steps in a catalytic sequence limit reac­tions rates.”

The award con­sists of a plaque and an hon­o­rar­ium of $5,000, and is awarded bien­ni­ally. Pro­fes­sor Camp­bell will present lec­tures at the local catal­y­sis clubs and soci­eties dur­ing the two-year period cov­ered by this award. The plaque will be pre­sented dur­ing the clos­ing ban­quet cer­e­monies at the 2015 North Amer­i­can Meet­ing of the Catal­y­sis Soci­ety.

More information about the Robert Burwell Lectureship in Catalysis can be found on the award website.

To learn more about Prof. Campbell and his research, please visit his faculty page and research group page.

Matt Bush wins ASMS Research Award

matt_bushThe American Society for Mass Spectrometry (ASMS) has awarded Assistant Professor Matt Bush a research award in the amount of $35,000. The ASMS presents two awards annually. Professor Bush’s award is sponsored by the Waters Corporation for the purpose of promoting academic research by young scientists in mass spectrometry. The awards are open to academic scientists within four years of joining the tenure track faculty or equivalent in a North American university.

More information about the ASMS Research Awards can be found on the award website.

To learn more about Prof. Bush and his research, please visit his faculty page and research group page.