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How the lessons of biological evolution guide our search for the origin of life

- Dinner starts at 7:00 pm.
- The evening's presentation begins around 7:45.
- Seating will be on a first-come-first-served basis.
- The capacity of the venue is 80 people.
- We expect a turnout of around 60% of day-of RSVPs.
- There is a $3 contribution requested from non-students.
How the lessons of biological evolution guide our search for the origin of life: A status report on the search for the origins of RNA and cellular life.

Nicholas Hud
Director, NSF/NASA Center for Chemical Evolution
Professor, School of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Georgia Institute of Technology

Mark Farmer
Chair and Professor
Biological Sciences Division
University of Georgia

Theodosius Dobzhansky aptly stated, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution". While the principles of evolution are most often associated with understanding the emergence and relationships of macroscopic life forms in the fossil record and on earth today, the same principles are helping us understanding the origin of life billions of years ago, for which there is no fossil record.

We will discuss our current understanding of the origin of RNA, arguably the most important molecule in living cells, and current theories regarding the origin of cellular life, the fundamental unit of all living organisms. The search for the origin of RNA is largely being pursued by “bottom up” approaches to the origin of life, which involves understanding how prebiotic chemical reactions could have given rise to the first genetic materials.

In contrast, the quest to understand the origin of cells is being aided by our knowledge of current cellular life, a “top down” approach. While these two approaches draw upon different types of information, and seek to understand very different aspects of early life, the principle of evolution through the survival of the fittest can be seen at both levels, from the molecular to the cellular forms that first emerged billions of years ago.

About Nicholas Hud
Nicholas Hud was born in Los Angeles, California. He has been a professor at Georgia Tech since 1999. Nick received his B.S. degree from Loyola Marymount University and his Ph.D. from UC Davis. His research interests are focused on understanding origin, the evolution and biological functions of nucleic acids (DNA and RNA). He is Director of the NSF/NASA Center for Chemical Evolution, and Associate Director of the Petit Institute of Bioengineering and Bioscience. He is a member of the NASA Center for Ribosomal Origins and Evolution (Ribo Evo).

About Mark Farmer
Mark Farmer is Chair of the Division of Biological Sciences at the University of Georgia. He is the author of over 40 research publications that focus on the origin and evolution of microorganisms and is a Past President of the International Society of Evolutionary Protistology. Mark is a frequent contributor to the Athens Banner Herald where he writes on topics of science and public policy and he is also a media consultant for the Georgia Citizens for Integrity in Science Education.

Image: Origins (courtesy of NASA).

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  • Mary D.

    Excellent! It was complicated stuff everybody needs to know presented clearly and expertly. I enjoy listening to researchers who are enthusiastic about their work and know how to share what they have learned.

    2 · October 28, 2013

  • RobertI

    Well presented. A search for the chemical basis of the formation of life. But the time scale of evolution is much slower than that of man's technological progress. 3,000,000,000 years to reach modern man and 10,000 years for technology to take us from a family in a cave to a rocketship to the moon. But the universe is about 14 billion years old. If the laws of physics and chemistry hold throughout the universe, and there are many planets capable of sustaining life like Earth, one assumes that this 3 billion year period occurred much earlier on these other planets. With an 11,000,000,000 year head start in technology, it is certain that other civilizations were galaxy roaming while the Earth was in the primordial mud. Even though RNA could have appeared denovo from chemical mud, it is far more likely that this planet and countless other ones were seeded from space. When we reach the stars, we may not find "people" but should certainly find life based on DNA/RNA in different phenotypes.

    October 27, 2013

  • Winston

    This presentation was an excellent complimentary pairing of two experts in a field that deserves more exposure. It is rare that we hear about abiogenesis. This presentation provided a good grounding in the field, balanced with the evolution of our genetic building blocks.

    October 27, 2013

  • jlh1701


    October 26, 2013

  • Christie M.

    My first Meetup event that I attended for any group. I'm very glad that I did.

    1 · October 26, 2013

  • Michael

    Very informative as to the thought processes and steps in the advancement of chemical and biological origins of life, from the researcher themselves.

    1 · October 26, 2013

  • Bob M.

    Very Informative good compliment of speakers

    October 26, 2013

  • William (Bill) M.

    DNA survives a fraction of the time compared to RNA. Wondering why. Thinking on the research of Dr. Mary Schweitzer who opened a 70 million yr old T-rex femur and discovered collagen fiber and medullary bone (suggests it was a lady-rex). Her analysis of the 70million yr old RNA showed it closely related to chickens and turkeys, reinforcing dino-bird linkage. What makes RNA so enduring?

    1 · October 21, 2013

  • Kelly Reynolds E.

    Can I bring a very mature, very well-behaved, very quiet, science-interested ten-year old?

    October 17, 2013

    • Marc M.

      Kelly - Young people are always welcome at our events at Manuel's. The most important thing for you to consider is whether you think your child will enjoy the program; age doesn't matter that much. I do let parents know that, although there is no-smoking in the area where we do our presentations, other parts of Manuel's are not smoke-free. This is supposed to change by January. Hope this helps. - Marc

      October 17, 2013

    • Kelly Reynolds E.

      Thanks so much! I'll talk it over with her.

      October 17, 2013

  • Eric J.

    This looks very interesting.

    October 13, 2013

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