Illinois researchers to play key roles in study of emergence of life

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Three scientists from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have leading roles in a multi-institution quest funded by the National Science Foundation to determine how life emerged on Earth.

A second grant, from the U.S. Department of Energy, will allow the Illinois researchers to go a step farther: They will seek to discover how translation within cells may have begun and evolved with and into life's genetic code.

Three Illinois scientists have lead roles on both grants: Nigel Goldenfeld, a professor of physics, chemistry professor Zaida Luthey-Schulten and Carl Woese, who holds the University's Stanley O. Ikenberry chair. Goldenfeld and Woese, a microbiologist, are among the co-principal investigators on the NSF grant, while all three head the DOE grant.

The grants will be administered to the Illinois researchers through the Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB).

The NSF this month approved a $5 million, five-year grant from its Frontiers in Integrative Biological Research (FIBR) program to Illinois, Arizona State University, the Carnegie Institute, the University of Colorado, George Mason University and the Santa Fe Institute. The Santa Fe Institute is the lead institution. Harold Morowitz, a professor of biology and natural philosophy at George Mason, is the lead researcher.

Work already has begun under the $900,000, three-year DOE grant, awarded through the agency's program on Genomes to Life. The researchers hope that their work will provide a fundamental understanding of the core processes of modern-day cells, ultimately enabling a variety of applications central to the mission of the Department of Energy, including a better understanding of how to control and repair ecosystems.

Woese's research, Goldenfeld said, is a driving force behind both grants.

"Both grants are for research on evolution -- the convergence of evolution, ecology and systems biology, all o

Contact: Jim Barlow, Life Sciences Editor
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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