Powner, Matthew

University College London (United Kingdom)

Matthew Powner obtained a master’s degree (2005) and PhD (2009) in chemistry at the University of Manchester. Then completed a short EPSRC Doctoral Prize postdoctoral fellowship with John Sutherland, and was awarded a Harvard Fellowship to work with Jack Szostak at Massachusetts General Hospital. He joined UCL (2011) as a lecturer in the chemistry department, where he is currently Professor of Organic Chemistry. He has been awarded various prizes and fellowships in recognition of his research, including the Stanley Miller Award (2011), the Roscoe Medal (2012), Origins of Life Challenge (2012; joint 1st prize with John Sutherland), an EPSRC Early Career Fellowship (2013), Thieme Chemistry Journal Award (2015), the RSC Harrison-Meldola Memorial Prize (2019) and Blavatnik Awards UK Finalist (2021).


On the unified chemical origins of peptides and nucleic acids


Living organisms are highly complex chemical systems that exploit a small constellation of universally conserved metabolites. The chemical unity of these metabolites provides compelling evidence that a simple set of predisposed reactions predicated the appearance of life on Earth. Conversely, traditional prebiotic chemistry has produced highly complex mixtures that bear little resemblance to the core metabolites of life. The complexity of prebiotic chemistry until recently had suggested that elucidating life’s origins was an insurmountable task, but prebiotic systems chemistry is now providing unprecedented scope to explore the origins of life and an exciting new perspective on a 4 billion-year-old problem. At the heart of this new systems approach is an understanding that individual classes of metabolites cannot be considered in isolation if the chemical origin of life on Earth is to be successfully elucidated. In this talk several recent advances suggesting the proteinogenic peptides and canonical nucleotides are predisposed chemical structures will be presented.

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