R2I at CCI: Georgia Tech University

CBCI: The Origins Project

Phase I program will carry out research on the chemical origin of life. The project is based on the theory that life evolved from prebiotic precursors that spontaneously assembled into RNA-like polymers. Questions that are being addressed include: What molecules were potentially present in the prebiotic chemical inventory? What molecules can self-assemble to form RNA-like polymers? And what molecules could have acted as prebiotic catalysts for the formation or assembly of other molecules? There are three principal objectives of the CBC: (i) to determine the potential building blocks of RNA-like polymers and to understand the reactions which form them; (ii) to uncover possible early metabolisms and mechanisms of self-assembly that could have selectively produced and coupled these building blocks into more complex molecules, eventually leading to RNA-like polymers; and (iii) to develop a distributed, cyber-enabled approach to advancing our knowledge of model prebiotic chemical reactions that will involve undergraduate students and their local mentors.

The work is having a broad impact in a number of ways: through the participation of women and under-represented minorities, particularly through the HBCU partner institutions of Spelman and Jackson State University; through the development of a high school outreach program that is making prebiotic experiments accessible to high school chemistry teachers; by further developing an existing course on "Chemistry of the Origin of Life" and through a research seminar series for freshmen on the "Origins of Order"; and through plans to disseminate information about the center through radio, local public television, computer graphics, and web-based educational modules.