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Dr Saidul Islam
Department of Chemistry (408)
Christopher Ingold Laboratory
20 Gordon Street
London
WC1H 0AJ
Tel: 0207 679 1503
Appointment
  • Research Associate
  • Dept of Chemistry
  • Faculty of Maths & Physical Sciences
Biography

I am an organic chemist working on the how life started on the early Earth at the Department of Chemistry, UCL. Biology is so chemically complex that it can be difficult to comprehend how such a beautiful system came about at the origin of life - but it had to have started somehow. And it started with organic chemistry. DNA, RNA, and proteins- they are all organic molecules. They are the 'canonical' structures. All (!) we have to do is retrace those early steps. This sounds all very simple, but historically this area of research has been held back by difficulties in making the basic components of life with any selectivity for the natural structures because of difficulties in finding conditions to tame the reactivity of high energy molecules that may have been present on primordial Earth. Life only uses three core structures for genetics and function: DNA, RNA and proteinogenic enzymes, but there must have been some sort of exquisitely selective chemistry that chose these structures, and not any of the myriad potentials. We are discovering the conditions and boundaries for allowing the molecules of life to emerge from. 


I completed an MChem in Chemistry with Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Manchester. My laboratory apprenticeships during my undergraduate studies were under the guidance of Professors David Procter, Darren Dixon and Jonathan Clayden. I was awarded the following during my time there: Zochonis Special Enterprise Award; Degussa Prize for Organic Chemistry; Mercer Scholarship; Roger Grice Memorial Prize for Theoretical/Physical Chemistry; R. T Warren Prize; J. K. Sutherland Prize for Organic Chemistry. 


My PhD was in Organic Chemistry with Professor John D. Sutherland FRS. After a brief interlude with Professor Igor Larrosa at Queen Mary University of London as a Postdoctoral Research Associate in organometallic catalysis, I returned to prebiotic chemistry in in 2013 to start a highly productive association with Professor Matthew Powner as a Research Associate/Fellow. 


Research Summary

We have discovered fundamental chemistries that suggest the genetic and functional polymers of life, the natural nucleic acids (RNA) and proteinogenic alpha-peptides (chains of amino acids) are predisposed to form in high yield from complex mixtures by selective crystallisation of only the natural building blocks. This is important because it would have likely provided the very first life on Earth with building blocks in great abundance and purity to feed off, to start developing into further complexity. We have shown that these are then converted into RNA and peptides. The foundations of this chemistry can be traced all the way back to hydrogen cyanide and hydrogen sulfide, two chemicals that were likely present on the early Earth. In other words, and rather perversely, life is simply the product of these two highly toxic gases. All of this chemistry may have foreshadowed the complex biological pathways that we know today, which are now controlled by very complex interactions of DNA, RNA and proteins (the ‘central dogma of molecular biology’).

Academic Background
2011 PhD Doctorat – Organic Chemistry University of Manchester
2007 MChem hons Master of Chemistry (Honours) – Chemistry University of Manchester
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