The Center for Ribosomal Origins and Evolution (Ribo Evo), was established at Georgia Institute of Technology in February 2009 as part of the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI). The NAI is a partnership between NASA and its NAI Teams located at academic institutions such as Georgia Tech, research laboratories, and NASA centers. Together these teams work to define and conduct integrated interdisciplinary research and education in astrobiology. The Georgia Tech team is lead by the Center's Director and Principal Investigator, Dr. Loren Dean Williams. In addition, co-investigators and collaborators from Georgia Tech, Emory University, John Hopkins University, the University of California at Santa Cruz and the University of Houston form the team.

The history of life is strongly imprinted in extant biochemistry. Life's amino acids, peptides, nucleosides and nucleic acids are initially derived from a prebiotic molecular inventory. The oldest macromolecular assembly of extant life is the ribosome. It is a molecular fossil that can be considered the Operating System of Life. The ribosome tells the story of some of life’s aboriginal molecules, assemblies and chemical reactions. Using the ribosome, we perform molecular paleontology - mining of biophysical and inorganic chemistry from ancient biological systems. We perform molecular resurrection - the construction and expression of extinct proteins and RNA. We will rewind the “tape of life”: to recapitulate the initial synthesis of proteins by RNA.

We aim to uncover clues about key steps in the transition from the putative RNA world to the RNA-DNA-protein world. Our work carries the potential of discovering and characterizing the oldest traceable macromolecules and machines of life, and the earliest discernable connection between RNA and protein.


The Center’s research is originated into four main areas:

1. Characterizing macromolecules and assemblies of living systems both in extreme environments and from the distant past.

2. Characterizing the machinery of peptide synthesis to determine and recreate key steps in the transition from the RNA world to the protein world.

3. Uncovering clues as to the nature of the peptide synthesis machinery that was operational during life’s transition from non-coded to coded peptides.

4. Discovering and characterizing the oldest traceable macromolecules and machines of life, and the earliest discernable connection of the RNA world to the RNA-protein world.

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