Visualizing the Origins of Life

Educators Paper
Thursday, 9 August
9:30 - 10:15 am
Room 8

How did life evolve on earth, and what form did it take? Biochemists at Harvard University are delving into this question in part by using molecular clues in our own cells. At a molecular level, all cells, from bacteria to human cells, share a system of storing genetic information through nucleic acids, such as DNA and RNA, which is then used to carry out processes essential for growth. The first living cell probably evolved this system from simple chemical compounds.

This project, funded by the National Science Foundation, uses molecular animation to illustrate the leading theories on how life evolved. The presenter, a biochemist by training, also discusses the technical and aesthetic challenges of designing animations that accurately portray events at the molecular scale. The animations are designed for exhibits at the Boston Museum of Science and technical scientific presentations.


Janet Iwasa
Harvard University, Massachusetts General Hospital
jiwasa (at)