John Sutherland has been awarded the Royal Society of Chemistry Tilden Prize for 2011. The Tilden Prize is awarded annually to recognise achievements in advancing the chemical sciences. It is awarded to those whose careers are defined by exceptional work, excellence and dedication.
John’s award is for his outstanding contributions to understanding the Origins of Life.
A true understanding of biology must include knowledge of its chemical origin, and comprehension of the chemical events that gave biology its foundations. John’s group, in the LMB’s PNAC Division, is interested in uncovering prebiotically plausible syntheses of the informational, catalytic and compartment-forming molecules necessary for the emergence of life. At some stage an informational polymer must have arisen by purely chemical means and it has long been thought that this polymer was RNA.
RNA is a string of ribonucleotides, each made up of three distinct parts: a ribose sugar, a phosphate group and a base – either cytosine or uracil, known as pyrimidines, or the purines guanine or adenine. John’s work has demonstrated the constitutional self-assembly of pyrimidine ribonucleotides from mixtures of simple building blocks – chemicals that existed on the early Earth. John’s group is now exploring similar ‘systems chemistry’ approaches to the purine ribonucleotides.