Szostak begins his lecture with examples of the extreme environments in which life exists on Earth. He postulates that given the large number of Earth-like planets orbiting Sun-like stars, and the ability of microbial life to exist in a wide range of environments, it is probable that an environment that could support life exists somewhere in our galaxy. However, whether or not life does exist elsewhere, depends on the answer to the question of how difficult it is for life to arise from the chemistry of the early planets. Szostak proceeds to demonstrate that by starting with simple molecules and conditions found on the early earth, it may in fact be possible to generate a primitive, self-replicating protocell.
In Part 2, Szostak focuses on work from his lab studying the membrane components of a simple protocell and in Part 3 of his lecture, he describes experiments to investigate nucleic acid replication by chemical rather than enzymatic mechanisms.
Early in his research career, Dr. Szostak made important contributions to the field of genetics. These included construction of the first yeast artificial chromosome and furthering our understanding of the function of telomeres, work for which he shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2009. By the 1990s, however, Szostak had redirected his… Continue Reading