Biology W4205 

Origins of Life

Geoffrey Zubay
753 Fairchild
Office Hours: TBA

Class Information:


 1000 Fairchild


 2:10 - 4:00pm



 call #  77529

Few areas of human inquiry are more thought provoking than the origin of life. When I first read about experiments in this field many years ago it seemed like serious experiments designed to test various theories were all too vague or inaccessible. It was in the early 1980's that I began to see the light as a result of experiments by Tom Cech and Sid Altman, which demonstrated that RNA had the capacity to serve as a catalyst for its own modification. Since then there has been a tremendous effort exerted to determine how the first RNA's were made and what functions they had. My course on the origin of life starts with a few lectures on the origin of the universe and the formation of the earth as a habitable planet. This is followed by a brief consideration of the basic principles of biochemistry which must have been important in the first living things. The main topic of this course is the prebiotic chemistry and the chemistry of early life forms. Finally the subject of evolution is treated in very basic terms. I use my textbook in this course (Origins of Life on the Earth and in the Biosphere), which is supplemented by recent papers from the scientific literature.

See the course syllabus.

Since this subject is multidisciplinary, students from all science and engineering departments will be welcome.
It is recommended that students who take this course have some background in introductory biology and a year of college chemistry. Enrollment will be limited to 20 students. Undergraduates with some science background are also invited. If in doubt call me.