Royal Society of NSW News & Events

Royal Society of NSW News & Events

Southern Highlands Branch Meeting 2022-5

Professor Pall Thordason“From the RNA world to building an RNA ecosystem”

Professor Pall Thordarson
Director, UNSW RNA Institute
UNSW Sydney

Date: Thursday, 16 June 6.30 pm AEST 
Venue: RSL Mittagong, Carrington Room

Summary: The RNA world idea within the origin of life field centres around the observation that the RNA molecule can do both: carry information (e.g., mRNA) and perform catalytic reactions (e.g., the ribosome – the protein synthesis factory in our cells). For the RNA world hypothesis to be true, there must have been some “intermediate” complex assemblies between simple RNA building blocks and fully functional RNA catalytic/self-replicating systems. Having worked on peptide gels for over a decade, we noted that recent studies in biology suggested that peptides and RNA readily form gel-like structures under certain conditions. We have therefore been investigating if gel formation from short RNA and peptide molecules could form gel-like aggregates and ultimately if these could provide a pre-biotic chemistry relevant path to a proto-ribosome to chemically evolve from the pre-biotic soup of chemicals.

Having also worked for a decade within the field of nanomedicine and targeted delivery with nanoparticles, the potential importance of understanding better how peptides could also aid in the delivery of RNA therapeutics was not lost on us. Having first approached our state government in 2019, the recent pandemic and the successful deployment of mRNA vaccines then enabled us to rally scientists from universities and medical research organisation from across the state, and work with like-minded groups in other states, to advance the vision of making Australia a powerhouse in the emerging RNA ecosystem.

Prof. Pall Thordarson obtained his BSc. from the University of Iceland in 1996 and a PhD in Organic Chemistry from The University of Sydney in 2001. Following a Marie Curie Fellowship in the Netherlands, he returned to Australia in 2003 and was then appointed at UNSW Sydney in 2007 as a Senior Lecturer where he became a Full Professor in 2017. He is currently the Director of the newly formed UNSW RNA Institute and the President-Elect of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute (RACI). He is also a program leader for the NSW RNA Production and Research Network and leads the NSW RNA Bioscience Alliance on the behalf of the NSW Vice-Chancellor’s Committee. Palli has published over 130 referred papers, including in prestigious journals such as Nature and Nature Nanotechnology. His research interest ranges from Nanomedicine and Light-harvesting Materials to Supramolecular and Systems Chemistry. He is focused on advancing our understanding of how molecules interact with one other and ‘self-assemble’, and how self-assembly can then be harnessed to create novel functional materials and systems. He has received a number of awards including the 2012 Le Fèvre Memorial Prize from the Australian Academy of Science for outstanding basic research in Chemistry by a Scientist under the age of 40.

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