Dr Saidul Islam
Lecturer in Chemistry
Saidul Islam is exploring the chemical origins of life on Earth. He has made important contributions towards understanding the formation of nucleic acids and peptides at the origin of life.
Saidul joined King’s College London in 2022 to set up the Chemical Origins of Life laboratory at the Department of Chemistry. He was Research Fellow in Organic Chemistry (with Professor Matthew Powner, University College London, 2013-2022) and Research Associate in Organometallic Chemistry and Catalysis (with Professor Igor Larrosa, Queen Mary University of London, 2011-2013). He completed his doctoral studies with Professor John Sutherland FRS (University of Manchester, 2011), and received an MChem in Chemistry with Medicinal Chemistry (1st class with prizes, University of Manchester, 2007).
We want to unravel the chemical pathways that gave rise to the emergence of life on early Earth.
Our research broadly falls under the term ‘prebiotic chemistry’–chemistry before biochemistry. One view is that the chemistry on early Earth had to be different to existing biochemistry because metabolic reactions are (by and large) difficult or non-selective without enzyme catalysis. Enzymes are, however, products of billions of years of evolution and were likely absent at the origin of life. In the face of such a dichotomy, we are forced to ask difficult questions about our very own existence, such as:
- What sort of chemistries preceded life in the absence of enzyme catalysis?
- How did these chemistries evade the shackles of disastrously complex mixtures and indiscriminate reactivity that typically occurs when highly energetic molecules are combined together?
- Are there remnants of these chemical pathways persisting (in some form) in present biochemistry?
- Is life the way it is because the core structures of biology (DNA, RNA, proteins, cofactors) were omnipresent from the very moment organic chemistry was able to take place on the early Earth?
Members of the Chemical Origins of Life laboratory at King’s College London use chemistry (including synthetic organic chemistry) and various analytical techniques (such as NMR spectroscopy) to answer these questions.