Research Efforts

Lipid vesicles (red) contain fluorescently-labelled RNA (green). These simple assemblies serve as a basic model for primitive cells (or protocells) that we expect would have eventually evolved into systems capable of Darwinian evolution.

The Harvard Origins of Life Initiative is comprised of researchers from many diverse scientific disciplines joined by a fascination with the big questions in origins of life science.  Faculty members share their work with their colleagues in other disciplines and departments, seeking deeper connections through an understanding of the work of others.  Postdoctoral fellows make the most of our faculty’s access to state of the art experimental and observational facilities.  Within this collaboration, summer undergraduate students and graduate students tackle complex origins problems in the labs of senior researchers.

The work requires the combined effort of most science at Harvard. Currently our team represents the following physical and life sciences:

  • Astrophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Biogeochemistry Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Evolutionary Chemistry
  • Evolutionary Dynamics
  • Genetics
  • Genomics
  • Geodynamics
  • Geophysics
  • Oceanography
  • Paleontology
  • Physics
  • Planetary Science
  • Prebiotic Chemistry
  • Systems biology

Our researchers break down boundaries to address these fundamental questions:

  • What is the range of possible planetary environments?
  • What chemical processes shaped the composition of asteroids and comets?
  • How did the impact history of the early Earth affect the origin of life?
  • What were the geochemical and geophysical contexts of prebiotic synthesis?
  • What prebiotic chemistry was responsible for the synthesis of the building blocks of biology from simple starting materials?
  • What principles or methods can help us to understand the chemistry of realistically complex mixtures of reactants?
  • Can the fast and accurate non-enzymatic and/or RNA-catalyzed replication of RNA be demonstrated experimentally?
  • How did primitive protocells assemble and replicate?
  • How did prebiotic synthetic processes morph into genetically encoded metabolic pathways?
  • What is the earliest record of microbial life?

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