What was the spark of life?


Leading scientists to wrangle with primordial question at Trottier Symposium

For all the questions science has answered in the past century alone, how life on Earth emerged roughly four billion years ago remains one of the great mysteries of our time.

On October 4, McGill University will host the third annual Lorne Trottier Public Science Symposium: Origin of Life: What Was the Spark of Life? during which four of the world’s foremost experts on the chemical and biological origins of human existence will debate a question that man has asked for centuries.

What: Origin of Life: What Was the Spark of Life?
The 2007 Lorne Trottier Public Science Symposium

When: 5–7 p.m., October 4, 2007

Where: McGill University Main Campus, Leacock Building, 855 Sherbrooke Street West, Room 132

The Lorne Trottier Public Science Symposium Series is supported by the Trottier Family Foundation. The current symposium is the third in a series of "Great Debates" in science and contemporary society. Lorne Trottier, president and co-founder of Matrox Electronic Systems Ltd., funded the symposium as the realization of his vision of "a public forum to inform, inspire debate and raise public awareness on contemporary issues confronting society." In addition to the Trottier Symposium, he has generously donated $23 million to McGill in recent years for construction of the Lorne Trottier Building in Information Technology and two Lorne Trottier Chairs and endowed fellowships in Science and Engineering.

Panelist Bios:

Dr. Steven A. Benner, Distinguished Fellow at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution and the Westheimer Institute of Science & Technology, is a renowned biological chemist and a pioneer in the fields of synthetic biology, paleogenetics and evolutionary bioinformatics. His work focuses on the development of chemical systems capable of self-reproduction and Darwinian-like evolution.

Dr. Stuart A. Kauffman, a theoretical biologist, is a professor at the University of Calgary, Director of the University’s Institute for Biocomplexity & Informatics, and a former MacArthur Fellow. Prof. Kauffman’s research focuses on the origin of life and molecular organization. He is best known for his view that the complexity of biological systems and organisms could result as much from self-organization and far-from-equilibrium dynamics as from Darwinian natural selection. He is the author of The Origins of Order, Investigations and At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization.

Dr. Antonio Lazcano is a biologist and Distinguished Professor at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico City, and President of the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life. His research focuses on the early evolution of life, the last common ancestor of extant life forms and the origin and development of metabolic pathways. He is the author of several books, including: The Miraculous Bacteria, a collection of scientific essays; The Spark of Life, on the heterotrophic theory of the emergence of life; and the best-selling The Origin of Life.

Dr. Robert Shapiro, an organic and bio-organic chemist, is Professor Emeritus and Senior Research Scientist at New York University. His research has centred on the chemistry of nucleic acids and the possible role of nucleic acids in the origin of life. He is author or co-author of over 110 publications, primarily in the area of DNA chemistry, and has written a number of books for the general public including Origins, a Skeptic's Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth.

Event Moderator:

Dr. Christopher P. McKay is a planetary scientist with the Space Science Division of NASA Ames Research Center. His research focuses on the chemical and physical evolution of the solar system and the origin of life. He is actively involved in the planning of Mars missions, including the potential for human settlement. Since 1980, Dr. McKay has been conducting extensive research in the Mars-like environments of Antarctica and the Canadian and Siberian Arctic.

On the Web:
Trottier Symposium
Webcast (as of 8 p.m., October 4)

Interviews with the panelists may be arranged prior to the symposium on October 4.

Contact Information

Allison Flynn
McGill University
allison.j.flynn [at] mcgill.ca
Office Phone: