SANTA CRUZ, CA--David Deamer began studying the origin of life in the early 1980s, and his research over the past 30 years has had a major influence on scientific understanding of how life on Earth got started. In his new book, First Life (UC Press, June 2011), Deamer presents a personal history of his work in this field, while also providing an engaging and accessible overview of research into life's beginnings.
The book describes this research within the framework of a new scientific discipline called astrobiology, which studies the origin and evolution of life on Earth in a broader cosmic context. "Astrobiology is a narrative that encompasses our understanding of star formation, the formation of our solar system, the early Earth environment, and how chemical compounds behave in such a way that they are driven toward increasing complexity of structures and interactions," said Deamer, a research professor of biomolecular engineering in the Baskin School of Engineering at UC Santa Cruz.
The main focus of his research has been the role of membranes in the origins of life. He began his career studying the biophysics of cell membranes, which are made of molecules called lipids. In the 1980s, he demonstrated that meteorites contain lipid-like molecules capable of forming stable membranes. More recently, research in Deamer's lab has shown that lipid membranes have an organizing effect on other molecules that helps small molecules join together to form longer polymers similar to the nucleic acids RNA and DNA, which are essential to all known forms of life.
This organizing effect of membranes is seen when chemical mixtures go through cycles of wetting and drying, as would occur along the margins of pools of hot water on volcanic sites. Such sites would have been a common environment on the early Earth. Wetting and drying promotes chemical reactions and also causes lipid membranes to form compartments that encapsulate different mixtures of
|Contact: Tim Stephens|
University of California - Santa Cruz