Morowitz Receives Grant to Study the Emergence of Life

Posted: September 29, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Lori Jennings

Harold Morowitz
Harold Morowitz

Harold Morowitz of the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study and the Santa Fe Institute will lead a team of researchers to investigate how the fundamental molecular processes of life emerged on Earth in the prebiotic world. The team has a $2.9 million grant awarded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Morowitz will serve as the project’s principal investigator (PI). The research team represents four universities and the Geophysical Laboratory of the Carnegie Institute of Washington.

“We are pleased to receive such a comprehensive grant from NSF, which will allow us to study one of the most fascinating questions in biology,” says Morowitz. “Our project —truly interdisciplinary and involving multiple institutions—will provide a coherent account of the evolution of metabolism and the development of modern genetic code.”

The Frontiers in Integrative Biological Research (FIBR) project, titled “The Emergence of Life: From Geochemistry to the Genetic Code,” is a continuing grant approved for approximately five years. Morowitz will be assisted by co-PIs Shelley Copley, University of Colorado; Nigel Goldenfeld and Carl Woese, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and Eric Smith, Santa Fe Institute.

This FIBR project will seek to prove or disprove its theory that robust core pathways and molecular associations were the statistically favored result of geochemical processes on the early Earth, which can be reconstructed computationally and in the laboratory.

In investigating this theory, the team will explore the origins of biomolecular self-replication in the pre-biotic history of Earth, considered a controversial topic in science today. Morowitz and his team will utilize novel theory and experimental data in an interdisciplinary approach including findings from microbiology, geochemistry, physics, biochemistry, computer simulation and a modern understanding of complex dynamical systems.

Morowitz is also a Clarence J. Robinson Professor of Biology and Natural Philosophy at George Mason. The Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico, with which he is affiliated, is a Krasnow Institute sister institution. The author of several books, Morowitz has written extensively on the thermodynamics of living systems as well as on popular topics in science.

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