Sahai Group Wins Best Poster Award At ISSOL Conference


issol-best-poster-winners-webThe Sahai Group won the Best Poster Award at the XVIIIth International Conference on the Origin of Life at San Diego, CA, in mid-July. Dr. Punam Dalai (pictured on right), a post-doctoral scientist, and CPSPE graduate student, Ms. Putu Ustriyana (pictured on left), are the first and second authors on the study, and Dr. Nita Sahai, Professor and Ohio Research Scholar at UA’s Department of Polymer Science, is the senior author. Their poster for the study titled “Ion Tolerance and Preferential Selectivity of A Lipid in Binary Lipid Systems: An Evolutionary Approach to Modern Membranes” was selected as the winner and was presented by Dalai at the conference.

The International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life (ISSOL) holds the largest annual conference in the field every year at different locations world-wide. The conference is a place where researchers from every specialty in the Origins of Life and Astrobiology fields can come together to discuss the greatest unifying questions: Where did we come from and are we alone in the Universe? This year’s event was held from July 16th through the 21st and consisted of oral presentations, poster presentations, and speakers on topics such as the prebiotic molecular evolution, the origins of life, evolution, potential for life in space, and much more.

The Sahai Group’s study deals with the early evolution of protocell membranes on early Earth about 4 billion years ago. Protocells are believed to have been the very earliest life-like entities that eventually evolved to form the first living cells. The group has examined the role of dissolved Mg2+ ions in the environment on protocell survival. Prior to their work, Mg2+, a ubiquitous ion in the natural geochemical environment was considered deleterious to protocell membranes. They have shown that Mg2+ actually acts as an environmental selection pressure to assist in the evolution of the earliest protocell membranes from less stable protocell membranes composed of single chain amphiphiles to more stable phospholipid membranes found in extant life.

Congratulations to Sahai’s team for achieving the Best Poster Award. The research they do is extremely important, both to the scientific community and to society, at large, in addressing one of the most fundamental questions about how it all began.