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Top Scientists Explore the Origin of Life in Annual Lasker Lecture at Scripps Research Institute Florida Campus
Date:3/17/2010

Szostak's work focuses on the use of fatty acids – the result of the breakdown of fats – to produce synthetic membranes or vesicles; the body uses these same membranes to carry nucleotides – the building blocks of both RNA and DNA – into the cell. Fatty acids, which are simple in their chemical structure, may have been part of the chemical soup found on early earth that gave way to simple cells that eventually evolved into recognizable life forms.

During its next phase, the research will shift from studying these membranes into the realm of genetics. "We are looking at the replication of primitive genetic materials, which is something of a challenge," Szostak said. "But if we can solve the problem of chemical replication of some genetic material, then we may be close to building simple living cells. Ultimately we hope this will lead to a more complete explanation of how life itself began on earth."

Paegel outlined his efforts to come to a better understanding of the processes required to construct those membranes in the first place. "If you can build it, you can understand it," he said, "Once it's built, we can use it to actually direct the evolutionary process where we want it to go. The other aspect of our work is the practical development of fatty acid membranes for drug delivery. We devote countless hours to screening for drugs, so why not screen for de
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SOURCE Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation
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