Advisory Board

Professor David W. Deamer

The Newsweek article Creating Life in the Lab said

David Deamer, an artificial-life scientist at UC Santa Cruz, spoke with NEWSWEEK’s Jeneen Interlandi about his research.
 
How far are we from creating a multi cellular organism? Quite a ways. But the race is definitely on to be the first lab to create life from nonlife. Someone will cross that finish line within the next decade or so.
 
What is the value of such an undertaking? If we can manufacture bacterial cells, we can use them as molecular machines to produce insulin and other useful molecules.
 
Are there environmental applications? Researchers are also designing bacteria that produce hydrogen gas. If they succeed, we will have an alternative, renewable fuel source beyond compare.

David W. Deamer, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus of Chemistry (Recalled), University of California Santa Cruz and on the Editorial Boards of Astrobiology, Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres, and the Journal of Bioenergetics and Biomembranes. His research interests include Membrane Biophysics, Model Membrane Systems, Membrane Transport Mechanisms, and Molecular Self-Assembly Processes.
 
Dave’s primary research area concerns the manner in which linear macromolecules traverse nanoscopic channels. Single-stranded nucleic acid molecules can be driven electrophoretically through a large channel embedded in a lipid-bilayer membrane, and the presence of the polynucleotide in the channel affects the ionic conductance in a manner related to chain length and concentration. This observation has considerable potential for characterizing DNA and RNA in microscopic volumes of nucleic acid solutions.
 
A second line of research concerns molecular self-assembly processes related to the structure and function of biological membranes, and particularly the origin and evolution of membrane structure. One example of such research was reported recently in which it was shown that photochemical reactions simulating those occurring in the interstellar medium give rise to amphiphilic molecules that can self-assemble into membrane structures.
 
He and his colleagues went on to show that membranes can self-assemble for simple amphiphiles such as fatty acids and alcohols, and that such processes are markedly affected by ionic content of the environment. These results help us to understand how primitive forms of cellular life appeared on the early Earth and were able to capture nutrients from the surrounding medium and incorporate them in intracellular growth processes.
 
Dave coauthored Origins of Life: The Central Concepts, Liquid-Liquid Interfaces: Theory and Methods, Liquid Interfaces in Chemistry and Biology, Characterization of individual polynucleotide molecules using a membrane channel, and Microsecond Time-Scale Discrimination Among Polycytidylic Acid, Polyadenylic Acid, and Polyuridylic Acid as Homopolymers or as Segments Within Single RNA Molecules, and coedited Membrane Permeability, 100 Years Since Ernest Overton (Current Topics in Membranes, Volume 48) and Structure and Dynamics of Confined Polymers (NATO SCIENCE PARTNERSHIP SUB-SERIES: 3: Volume 87).
 
Dave’s undergraduate degree was in Chemistry at Duke University and his Ph.D. degree in 1965 was in Physiological Chemistry at the Ohio State University School of Medicine. Following post-doctoral research at UC Berkeley, he joined the faculty at UC Davis in 1967. In 1994 he moved to UC Santa Cruz to carry out NASA-supported research on the role of membranes in the evolutionary events leading to the origin of cellular life.
 
Read Selecting life: Scientists find new way to search for origin of life, Silicon chip beams light through a liquid-core waveguide to detect one particle at a time, and NeoGenesis: How Scientists Are Creating Alternate Life Forms.