Aaron Engelhart, an assistant professor in the Department of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development (GCD), received the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life’s Stanley L Miller Early-Career Research Award. The award is given for Ph.D. or postdoctoral research that makes a significant contribution to the field. It’s the highest honor for an early-career researcher doing work relating to the origins of life.
Engelhart was recognized for his work on nucleic acids. He studies a type of nucleic acid called aptamers, which can be used to hold and transport specific molecules. Engelhart and Kate Adamala, a fellow GCD faculty member and frequent collaborator, are using an RNA aptamer to introduce specific components into artificial cells to try to assemble cell-like systems from inanimate parts. They are also using an aptamer that binds a molecule that glows under certain conditions in hopes of creating a tool that allows them to closely observe communication between cells.
“Aaron is an exceptionally creative scientist with a track record of finding surprising solutions to difficult problems,” says Harvard Medical School professor and Nobel Laureate Jack Szostak, who was Engelhart’s post-doctoral research advisor. “His discovery of a simple physical basis for coordinating nucleic acid replication with membrane growth in protocells exemplifies this special talent, and I am delighted that he has been recognized by the Stanley Miller Award.”
Engelhart received the award at a ceremony during the society’s annual meeting earlier this month.