December 14, 2016, Chinese Academy of Sciences Academician and Professor Zhao Yufen presented at SUSTech Lecture Series No. 99 and gave a report on “The Relationship between Phosphorus and the Origin of Life” at No. 111 Lecture Hall of SUSTech Library. Professor Zhang Xumu, Chair of SUSTech Chemistry served as moderator of the lecture.
Professor Zhao Yufen was elected academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 1991 at the age of 43, the youngest female academician at that time, and is also foreign fellow of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS). She first worked as professor in Tsinghua University and then in Xiamen University. She is a famous organic chemist and particularly known for her work on phosphorus. She once learned from Professor Fausto Ramires, a world renowned chemist and originator of phosphorus studies, and in 2015, she won “International Abuzov” Award, becoming the only winner from China so far.
In the lecture, Professor Zhao Yufen elaborated on the intrinsic relationship between phosphorus and the origin of life. She first introduced the famous theory that “phosphoryl amino acid is the origin of protein and nucleic acid” she’d proposed, namely, hosphoryl amino acid generated from phosphorus and amino acids could be the smallest evolutionary system of life. It could combine with amino acids to form peptides and with nucleosides to form nucleotides, hence the role of phosphorus as controlling center in the chemical process of the life. She also mentioned the magic of life in the origin, for instance, the reaction “5HCN == 1Ademine”, when the highly toxic HCN permeating in the air of ancient times became adenine in ATP that in turn induced the generation of the earliest protein, ATP mixed protein. For students at the lecture, it was really an eye-opener.
Moreover, Professor Zhao Yufen shared with the audience how hard and complicated an experiment could be. Accurate quantitative analysis and repeated experiments were a must to get better results. She said some of her experiments started when she taught at Tsinghua University and was completed 10 years later when she taught at Xiamen University. Sometimes the findings might be quite occasional. For example, in an experiment, the students froze an amino acid before going home to celebrate the Chinese New Year, and only to find, half a month later, some special nature of it impossible at room temperature. Based on this finding, great breakthroughs were then achieved after in-depth studies.
Professor Zhaoyufen explained the profound theories in simple terms, and interacted with the audience from time to time, making the lecture both enlightening and fun. At the end, she also expressed her wish to conduct deep-level cooperation with SUSTech for further academic progress and patiently answered the questions asked by the students.