With this Chemical Bonding Center (CBC) Phase I, Step II award, the Division of Chemistry and the Office of Multidisciplinary Activities of the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate jointly support the research of Jack W. Szostak, of Massachusetts General Hospital, Steven A. Benner, of the University of Florida, and Gerald F. Joyce, of the Scripps Research Institute. This CBC will pursue the long-term goal of synthesizing artificial chemical systems that will exhibit Darwinian evolution. In phase I of the project, a combination of molecular design and laboratory selection will be used to generate RNA-like structures that undergo self-reproduction with heritable mutation. The CBC will utilize the synthetic organic skills of Benner, the expertise in RNA-like systems of Joyce, and the experience of Szostak in the design of in vitro evolution experiments in this highly collaborative endeavor. The synthesis of Darwinian chemical systems will form the basis of a synthetic biology that has the potential of constructing self-replicating systems using the tools of preparative chemistry. This program at the interface of chemistry and biology will provide broad interdisciplinary training for students and is expected to capture the imagination of the public.
Chemical Bonding Centers are designed to focus innovative collaborative efforts that address a "big problem" which will lead to a major advance in chemistry or at the interface of chemistry and other sciences and will have the potential to attract broad scientific and public interest.