IAS Benjamin Meaker Visiting Professor Eugene V. Koonin, National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), National Library of Medicine (NLM) and National Institutes of Health (NIH), USA

Eugene Koonin 3

A timescale for the origin and early evolution of Cellular life

9 - 13th October 2017

Dr Koonin is the most prominent, contemporary computational biologist, and one of the most important evolutionary biologists of our time. He obtained is PhD in virology at the Moscow State University in 1983, under the supervision of Vadim I. Agol. He moved to the United States in November 1991 to take up a position at the National Center for Biotechnology Innovation (NCBI). Since then he become one of the most highly recognized computational biologists. He published approximately 500 scientific articles in the last ten years only, and his work has been cited an astonishing 142,000 times.

Among his many discoveries we can highlight the identification of the CRISPR-Cas system, the bacterial immune system that enabled the development of the CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technology, which is at the core of modern genetic engineering. Dr Koonin is adjunct professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Boston University, and the University of Haifa. Served in the editorial board of many high profile scientific journals, from Trends in Genetics to Bioinformatics, and is editor in Chief of Biology Direct. In 2016 he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences (USA). 


Life as we know it is cellular, and the origin and early evolution of cellular life represents one of the greatest remaining mysteries of evolutionary biology. Fundamental, still unresolved problems include understanding the genealogical relationships among the simplest cellular organisms (i.e. the prokaryotes), establishing what were the metabolic capacities of the Last Universal Common Ancestor of cellular life (LUCA), and the age of the proteins in LUCA’s genome. 

Answering these questions is fundamental, not only to understand the origin and early evolution of cellular life, but also to clarify the early evolution of the physical Earth, as many features of our planet (like the presence of Oxygen in its oceans and atmosphere) have biogenic origins. Similarly, clarifying when single genes predicted to have existed in the genome of LUCA actually evolved would allow clarifying how long was the time that elapsed between the origin of life itself (which is as yet a complete mystery) and that of life as we know it.

During his visit Dr Koonin will be hosted by Professor Davide Pisani (Biological Sciences/Earth Sciences)


Tuesday 10th October, 1-2pm, Reynolds Lecture Theatre, G25, Wills Memorial Building

Dr Koonin will deliver the IAS/Sollas public lecture 'The chemistry-biology interface and the origin of cells and viruses'

Wednesday 11th October, 1-2pm, Seminar room G13/G14, Life Sciences Building

Lecture: Evolution of the virus world and antivirus defense: a tangled web