Jack W. Szostak
Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator
Alexander Rich Distinguished Investigator, Massachusetts General Hospital
Laboratory Manager/Administrator: Shui-Ying (Fanny) Ng
Understanding the processes that culminated in the origin of life is one of the great unsolved challenges in chemistry. Research in the Szostak laboratory is focused on the origin, early evolution and laboratory synthesis of simple living systems.
The complexity of modern biological life has long made it difficult to understand how life could emerge spontaneously from the chemistry of the early earth. The key to resolving this mystery lies in the simplicity of the earliest living cells. Through our efforts to synthesize extremely simple artificial cells, we hope to discover plausible pathways for the transition from chemical evolution to Darwinian evolution. We view the two key components of a primitive cell as a self-replicating nucleic acid genome, and a self-replicating cell membrane. We have recently discovered simple but robust pathways for the coupled growth and division of primitive cell membranes. We are currently engaged in the design and chemical synthesis of modified nucleic acids, including modified versions of RNA, that can replicate without enzymes. By combining self-replicating nucleic acids and membranes we hope to generate model protocells that will allow us to observe the spontaneous emergence of Darwinian behavior.
185 Cambridge St., Boston MA