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Computational chemistry studies of the origins of RNA and DNA on Earth

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  • Full or part time
    Dr R Szabla
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round

Project Description

A PhD studentship in computational chemistry is available in the group of Dr Rafal Szabla (School of Chemistry, The University of Edinburgh;
Studentship Reference: PHD19RSZ1 (please include this in the application)

Project Summary
Ultraviolet irradiation was likely one of the key sources of energy for early prebiotic reactions, owing to the absence of the ozone layer on Archean Earth. The intrinsic photostability of biomolecular building blocks indicates that UV light was also one of the key selection factors in the prebiotic era. Therefore, mechanistic studies of UV-induced prebiotic reactions and the phodynamics of alternative nucleobases and nucleosides have been among our key interests. For this purpose, we have applied highly accurate methods of quantum chemistry and molecular dynamics simulations both in the electronic ground and excited states.

We are currently putting significant effort into understanding the mechanistic details of DNA/RNA self-repair (Szabla R. et al., Chem. Sci., 9, 3131-3140, 2018.) and nonenzymatic template copying of nucleic acid strands (). This PhD will be focused on one of these topics, which will be agreed with the successful candidate before the start. Research activities will involve quantum chemical (QM/MM) and molecular dynamics (MD) simulations of selected RNA/DNA oligomers with the emphasis on studying reaction mechanisms and providing guidance for future experimental work. Each of these topics will be conducted in close collaboration with two experimental laboratories at the Harvard University (Sasselov and Szostak labs), who can host the PhD student for short visits. The key goal of this studentship will be to develop understanding about the emergence of first self-replicating and stable informational polymers on prebiotic Earth.

The successful candidate will possess, or expect to obtain, a first class or upper-second class undergraduate degree (or equivalent) in chemistry. Essential qualities include good background in physical chemistry.

In the first instance, informal enquiries (accompanied by a CV) should be directed to Dr Rafal Szabla, School of Chemistry, University of Edinburgh, David Brewster Road, Edinburgh EH9 3FJ, UK. Email: [Email Address Removed]

The position will remain open until filled and is available to start in September 2020 (or earlier if convenient).

The School of Chemistry holds a Silver Athena SWAN award in recognition of our commitment to advance gender equality in higher education. The University is a member of the Race Equality Charter and is a Stonewall Scotland Diversity Champion, actively promoting LGBT equality. The University has a range of initiatives to support a family friendly working environment. See our University Initiatives website for further information. University Initiatives website:

Funding Notes

The studentship is fully funded for 42 months and covers tuition fees for UK and EU candidates and an annual stipend (starting at £15,285 per annum).

How good is research at University of Edinburgh in Chemistry?
(joint submission with University of St Andrews)

FTE Category A staff submitted: 43.30

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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