Nobel Laureate Jack Szostak visited BIOPIC

By invitation of Professor Sunney Xie, Jack Szostak of Harvard University visited BIOPIC on May 6th.

Dr. Szostak is an HHMI investigator, as well professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard University, and Alexander Rich Distinguished Investigator at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston.

Dr. Szostak delivered a talk titled “The Origins of Cellular Life”, which was attended by more than 300 researchers and students at Shaoyuan Conference Center of Peking University.

In the talk. Dr. Szostak introduced the work his lab had done in the investigation of the origin of cellular life. He reported the chemical and physical processes that facilitated the transition from chemical evolution to biological evolution on the early earth. As a way of exploring these processes, his laboratory is trying to build a synthetic cellular system that undergoes Darwinian evolution. His view of what such a chemical system would look like centers on a model of a primitive cell, or protocell, that consists of two main components: a self-replicating genetic polymer and a self-replicating membrane boundary. The job of the genetic polymer is to carry information in a way that allows for both replication and variation, so that new sequences that encode useful functions can be inherited and can further evolve. The role of the protocell membrane is to keep these informational polymers localized, so that the functions they encode lead to an advantage in terms of their own replication or survival. He concludes that such a system should, given time and the right environment, begin to evolve in a Darwinian fashion, potentially leading to the spontaneous emergence of novel genomically encoded catalysts and structural molecules.

Dr. Szostak also visited multiple labs of BIOPIC on the same day and met with Professors Fuchou Tang, Xiaodong Su, Hao Ge, Xinsheng Zhao Wensheng Wei and Sunney Xie.

Dr. Szostak is a world famous biologist and recipient of numerous awards, including United States National Academy of Sciences Award in Molecular Biology, the 2006 Lasker Award, Hans Sigrist Prize, University of Bern, Switzerland, Genetics Society of America Medal, and the 2008 Dr H.P. Heineken Prize for Biochemistry and Biophysics, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2009, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, along with Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol W. Greider, for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres.

Dr. Szostak’s HHMI webpage

Dr. Szostak’s Harvard webpage

Dr. Szostak’s Wikipedia page