Exploring the Beginnings of Life

A molecular diagram evolves into a hatching egg

Scientists understand that about four billion years ago the basic molecules of biological life on Earth arose from a primordial soup of chemicals. But how did this process occur? Questions remain unanswered about exactly how the chaos of chemicals became ordered biology.

Now, a multidisciplinary team of scientists at UNC-Chapel Hill aim to answer these questions thanks to a $1 million award from the W.M. Keck Foundation, a Los Angeles-based philanthropic organization that supports research in science, engineering and medicine. 

Understanding the exact details of the origins of life will allow scientists to better explore the possibilities of life outside of Earth. It could inspire new strategies for mimicking complex cellular components and processes important for human health. It will also generate a useful public database for the field of synthetic biology, which has many research applications in medicine, manufacturing and agriculture.

Charles Carter, professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the UNC School of Medicine, will serve as lead investigator. The team includes Qi Zhang, associate professor in the biochemistry and biophysics department, and Abigail Knight ’10, assistant professor in the UNC Department of Chemistry. 

Read the complete Carolina Story to learn more about this research…