"The RNA World: Emergence & Evolution of Functional RNA"

Irene A. Chen, Assistant Professor, University of California, Santa Barbara
Thursday, January 11, 2018 - 4:00pm

Evolutionary outcomes are difficult, if not impossible, to predict, largely because the effect of any possible mutation is unknown. In other words, understanding evolution requires detailed knowledge of the relationship between sequence and activity, or the fitness landscape. Inspired by the RNA World of early life, in which RNA carried information and also performed catalytic functions, we study the emergence and evolution of functional RNAs. I will describe our experimental efforts to map complete fitness landscapes for functional RNA and the implications for optimizing ribozyme activity and replaying the ‘tape of life’.

About the Speaker

The Chen Laboratory's mission is the quantitative study and engineering of artificial living systems. The lab works to achieve a predictive understanding of evolution, with a focus on functional RNAs and their interactions with membranes and proteins. The Chen Lab also studies the microbes associated with humans, with a focus on bacteriophages and their potential applications. MORE

This lecture is part of IAP 2018: Origin of Life Seminar Series
12.091/ 12.S593 | Instructor: Greg Fournier

The Origin of Life Seminar Series is a series of hosted lectures from leaders in the Origin of Life community, focusing on various dimensions of one of the most challenging problems in the biological and planetary sciences.  Topics will include the origin of cells, metabolism, replication and proteins, as well as the geochemical conditions on the Early Earth that led to prebiotic and early biotic systems.  Enrolled students will attend 4-5 seminars during IAP, actively engage in Q & A sessions with invited speakers in a panel format, and collaborate on creating an Origins of Life online blog resource highlighting the work of invited speakers.


JANUARY 29 | ROOM 54-915 | 4PM
What is “I”: The Role of Compartmentalisation in the Origins of Life
Anna Wang | Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard University

JANUARY 31 | ROOM 54-915 | 4PM
The Planetary Battery for the Origins of Life: The Example of Mars
Vlada Stamenkovic | NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, CalTech