Dr. Nita Sahai receives NSF Division of Earth Sciences Award08/19/2019
Congratulations to Dr. Nita Sahai, Ohio Research Scholar Professor of Polymer Science, who was recently awarded a $516,342 grant from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Division of Earth Sciences (EAR) Geobiology and Low Temperature Geochemistry Program. Her project, “Mineral-Promoted RNA Polymerization: Investigating Structural Properties of Catalytic Minerals,” would contribute to NSF's goal of promoting the progress of fundamental science in one of the most profound questions asked by humankind, which is, how did life begin?
The goal of the proposed work is to identify minerals which could have played a role in the origin of life (OoL) on early Earth by promoting the formation of longer molecules (polymers) of ribonucleic acid (RNA) from simple starting precursor molecules (monomers). Before life and enzymes, it is proposed that minerals may have acted as catalysts to play the role of enzymes in promoting polymerization. RNA is one of the most important molecules in biology because of its ability to play many roles. In the OoL, the formation of polymers is important because oligomers have the ability to take on different structures and functionalities. Thus, polymerization of monomers is a key bridging step in the progress from simple organic precursors towards the earliest life-like cells. The proposed work also includes numerous outreach activities, including the development of a weekly program on National Public Radio as well as a public science lecture series, which would bring science to the general public, and outreach activities to encourage women and diversity. The grant funds would support a post-doctoral researcher. Thus, the proposed work also supports NSF's goal of supporting education and diversity, and training the future scientific workforce.