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Origins of Life Systems Chemistry

Wednesday 17 February 2016, 1.00PM to 2:00 pm

Speaker(s): Professor John Sutherland, MRC Laboratory, University of Cambridge

By reconciling previously conflicting views about the origin of life – in which one 
or other cellular subsystem precedes, and then ‘invents’ the others – a 
new modus operandi for its study is suggested. Guided by this, a cyanosulfidic 
protometabolism is uncovered which uses UV light and the stoichiometric 
reducing power of hydrogen sulfide to convert hydrogen cyanide, and a couple 
of other prebiotic feedstock molecules which can be derived therefrom, into 
nucleic acid, peptide and lipid building blocks.
Copper plays several key roles in this chemistry, thus, for example, copper(I)-
copper(II) photoredox chemistry generates hydrated electrons, and copper(I) 
catalysed cross coupling and copper(II) driven oxidative cross-coupling reactions 
generate key feedstock molecules. Geochemical scenarios consistent with this 
protometabolism are outlined.
Finally, the transition of a system from the inanimate to the animate state is 
considered in the context of there being intermediate stages of partial 




Location: Room C/A101