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Gordon Research Conferences
Meeting Details

Origins of Life
Gordon Research Conference

Understanding the Origin and Evolution of Life on Earth and the Galaxy


January 12-17, 2014


Hotel Galvez
Galveston, TX


Steven A. Benner

Vice Chair:
Stephen Freeland

Meeting Description

The "Origins of Life" Gordon Conference provides the most important venue where chemists, biologists, natural historians, planetary scientists, astronomers, and others meet to create approaches to study "big questions" about origins, questions not easily addressed by hypothesis-driven research. The focus on the plural "Origins" allowed the 2014 Conference Chair, Steven Benner,to expand topics to include the origins of advanced biology, including human physiology and disease. Further, a session is devoted on the practical applications of "origins" research, to technology, industry, and medicine, to move "origins" from an academic field to one that is fundable. To advance the Origins conference mission as a place where students and early-stage researchers can develop careers studying "big questions", conference attendees will include staff from foundations interested in supporting "big question" research, and strong international representation from Europe and the Far East. Support for early stage researchers to cover attendance costs and participate in planning discussions has been made possible by generous grants from the Templeton Foundation, NASA, the Simon Foundation, and the NSF.


Meeting Program

4:00 pm - 8:00 pmArrival and Check-in (Office Closed 6:00 pm - 7:45 pm)
6:00 pmDinner
7:30 pm - 7:40 pmWelcome / Introductory Comments by GRC Site Staff
7:40 pm - 9:30 pmExotic Places, Exotic Thoughts
Discussion Leader: Dirk Schulze-Makuch (Washington State University)
7:40 pm - 8:10 pmMichael Russell (JPL NASA)
"Deep Sea Thermal Vents and Origins"
8:10 pm - 8:20 pmDiscussion
8:20 pm - 8:50 pmYuka Fujii (Earth Life Science Institute)
"Extrasolar Planets"
8:50 pm - 9:00 pmDiscussion
9:00 pm - 9:20 pmHenderson Cleaves (Carnegie Institution for Science)
"Against Biopolymers"
9:20 pm - 9:30 pmDiscussion
7:30 am - 8:30 amBreakfast
8:30 amGroup Photo
9:00 am - 12:30 pmGeology
Those hoping to build models for the origin of life often assume that life originated on Earth. But what was early Earth like? This question becomes more important with each advance in the chemistry that proposes prebiotic reaction sequences that require specific environments with specific temperatures, minerals, and solutes, among others. This session will describe the current state of knowledge about early Earth.
Discussion Leader: Michael Russell (JPL NASA)
9:00 am - 9:40 amSteve Mojzsis (University of Colorado)
"The Crustal Platform for Early Life"
9:40 am - 10:00 amDiscussion
10:00 am - 10:20 amCoffee Break
10:20 am - 10:55 amYuichiro Ueno (Earth-Life Science Institute/Tokyo Institute of Technology)
"Archaean Geology and Its Implications"
10:55 am - 11:05 amDiscussion
11:05 am - 11:40 amDimitri Sverjensky (Johns Hopkins University)
"What Minerals Were Present, and Not"
11:40 am - 11:50 amDiscussion
11:50 am - 12:10 pmMarika Schmidt (Brock University)
"Unraveling the History of the Sheepbed Mudstone, Gale Crater and the Discovery of a Habitable Environment on Mars"
12:10 pm - 12:30 pmDiscussion
12:30 pmLunch
1:30 pm - 4:00 pmFree Time
4:00 pm - 6:00 pmPoster Session
6:00 pmDinner
7:30 pm - 9:30 pmWhat Chemistry is Out There?
Perhaps part of the chemistry needed for life was not produced on Earth, but came to Earth from elsewhere. This session considers chemistry that might be done elsewhere.
Discussion Leader: Armen Mulkidjanian (Osnabrueck University)
7:40 pm - 8:10 pmKarin Öberg (University of Virginia)
8:10 pm - 8:20 pmDiscussion
8:20 pm - 8:50 pmSandra Pizzarello (Arizona State University)
8:50 pm - 9:00 pmDiscussion
9:00 pm - 9:20 pmMatthew Pasek (University of South Florida)
"Origin of Phosphate from Iron Phosphide"
9:20 pm - 9:30 pmDiscussion
7:30 am - 8:30 amBreakfast
9:00 am - 12:30 pmWater, Entropy and the Origins of Life
Several paradoxes prevent organic molecules from spontaneously giving life. They easily devolve to give tar. They can easily be hydrolyzed. And even if they escape devolution and hydrolysis, they are likely to be present in too low concentrations to be assembled into biopolymers of sufficient length to initiate Darwinian processes. The corrosiveness of water, the devolution to tar, the concentration of scarce species, and the use of templates are all considered in this session.
Discussion Leader: Karin Öberg (University of Virginia)
9:00 am - 9:25 amUlrich Schreiber (University of Duisburg-Essen)
"Supercritical CO2: Solving Water Problems"
9:25 am - 9:30 amDiscussion
9:30 am - 9:55 amChristian Mayer (University of Duisburg-Essen)
"Chemistry of Supercritical CO2"
9:55 am - 10:00 amDiscussion
10:00 am - 10:20 amCoffee Break
10:20 am - 11:05 amDieter Braun (Ludwig-Maximilians Universität Munich)
"Thermal Gradients and Concentration"
11:05 am - 11:20 amDiscussion
11:20 am - 12:00 pmNick Hud (Georgia Institute of Technology)
"Molecular Midwives and Assembly"
12:00 pm - 12:30 pmDiscussion
12:30 pmLunch
1:30 pm - 4:00 pmFree Time
4:00 pm - 6:00 pmPoster Session
6:00 pmDinner
7:30 pm - 9:30 pmPaleogenetics and Proteins
We can improve our view about life's origins by working backwards from extant life. This process has been enriched by "paleogenetics" experiments, which resurrect ancient forms of life for study in the laboratory. This allows experimental methods to be brought to bear on historical hypotheses. This session will include presentations by leaders in the field who have resurrected proteins, and solved problems in origins by studying their behavior.
Discussion Leader: Eric Gaucher (Georgia Institute of Technology)
7:35 pm - 8:05 pmTBA
8:05 pm - 8:10 pmDiscussion
8:10 pm - 8:40 pmShozo Yokoyama (Emory University)
"Evolutionary Analysis of Vision"
8:40 pm - 8:50 pmDiscussion
8:50 pm - 9:20 pmAndrei Lupas (Max Planck Institute)
"On the Origin of Folded Proteins"
9:20 pm - 9:30 pmDiscussion
7:30 am - 8:30 amBreakfast
9:00 am - 12:30 pmRNA as the Prebiotic Molecule
Working backwards in time from present-day terran biology suggests that RNA played important roles in the ancient biosphere. But could RNA have done it all? This session will describe work from leading scientists describing what RNA can do, and what it cannot.
Discussion Leader: Elisa Biondi (Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution)
9:10 am - 9:50 amNiles Lehman (Portland State University)
"Game Theory in the RNA World"
9:50 am - 10:00 amDiscussion
10:00 am - 10:25 amCoffee Break
10:25 am - 11:00 amLoren Williams (Georgia Institute of Technology)
"The Origin of the Ribosome"
11:00 am - 11:10 amDiscussion
11:10 am - 11:25 amLinda McGown (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)
"Considering the G-Quadraplex in Prebiotic Chemistry"
11:25 am - 11:30 amDiscussion
11:30 am - 11:45 amSankar Chatterjee (Museum of Texas Tech University)
11:45 am - 11:50 amDiscussion
11:50 am - 12:25 pmIrene Chen (University of California Santa Barbara)
"Landscapes in RNA"
12:25 pm - 12:30 pmDiscussion
12:30 pmLunch
1:30 pm - 4:00 pmFree Time
4:00 pm - 6:00 pmPoster Session
6:00 pmDinner
7:30 pm - 9:30 pmOriginating Life in the Lab
OK. Maybe we cannot solve the historical question: How did life actually arise on Earth? Can we originate some of our own life by "intelligent design"? Could life have had a fundamentally different core molecular biology? This session will bring together leaders in the field who have shown that it might.
Discussion Leader: Vanessa McCaffrey (Albion College)
7:35 pm - 8:05 pmJohn Chaput (Arizona State University)
"Alternative Sugars and Genetic Biopolymers"
8:05 pm - 8:10 pmDiscussion
8:10 pm - 8:40 pmChris Switzer (University of California Riverside)
"Odd DNA"
8:40 pm - 8:50 pmDiscussion
8:50 pm - 9:20 pmDaisuke Kiga (Earth-Life Science Institute/Tokyo Institute of Technology)
"19 and 21 Amino Acid Codes"
9:20 pm - 9:30 pmDiscussion
7:30 am - 8:30 amBreakfast
8:30 am - 9:00 amBusiness Meeting
Nominations for the Next Vice Chair; Fill in Conference Evaluation Forms; Discuss Future Site and Scheduling Preferences; Election of the Next Vice Chair
9:00 am - 12:30 pmBoron in the Origin of Life?
And other elements that may or may not have participated in life's origins
Discussion Leader: Sosale Chandrasekhar (Indian Institute of Science)
9:05 am - 9:40 amYoshihiro Furukawa (Tohoku University)
9:40 am - 9:50 amDiscussion
9:50 am - 10:05 amCoffee Break
10:05 am - 10:35 amHyo-Joong Kim (Firebird Biomolecular Sciences)
"Mineral Constraints on Tar Formation"
10:35 am - 10:45 amDiscussion
10:45 am - 11:10 amRomulus Scorei (BioBoron Research Institute)
"Borates in Origins and Evolution of Life: From the Primordial Soup to the Human Beings"
11:10 am - 11:20 amDiscussion
11:20 am - 11:50 amJames Stephenson & Lydia Hallis (Institute for Astronomy-University of Hawaii)
"Evidence for Life's Martian Origin" - "Martian Clays"
11:50 am - 11:55 amDiscussion
11:55 am - 12:20 pmJoseph Kirschvink (California Institute of Technology)
"Mars Versus Earth"
12:20 pm - 12:30 pmDiscussion
12:30 pmLunch
1:30 pm - 4:00 pmFree Time
4:00 pm - 6:00 pmPoster Session
6:00 pmDinner
7:30 pm - 9:30 pmPractical Use of Origins
Sooner or later, we need to fund work into origins. Unfortunately, origins research does not have practical applications in medicine, industry, and commerce. Or does it? This session will present talks from those who make "origins" research pay.
Discussion Leader: Betul Kacar (Georgia Institute ofTechnology)
7:30 pm - 8:05 pmEric Gaucher (Georgia Institute of Technology)
"Using Astrobiology in Medicine"
8:05 pm - 8:15 pmDiscussion
8:15 pm - 8:40 pmRyan Shaw (Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution)
"Alien Life as a Platform for Biotechnology"
8:40 pm - 8:50 pmDiscussion
8:50 pm - 9:20 pmChuck Liarakos (NSF)
"The Ideas Lab: A New Creative Environment"
9:20 pm - 9:30 pmDiscussion
7:30 am - 8:30 amBreakfast
9:00 amDeparture
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