John Goodchild (Chemistry) has spent the past five years working to solve a straightforward problem in chemistry: How to create a new way to form nucleosides, chemical compounds that are present in all living cells and are widely used to treat viruses and cancers.
As he does this, he also ponders an incredibly complex question: How did these nucleosides get together to create DNA?
Three billion nucleosides form our genetic code, our DNA. A number of them have become the basis of drugs, AZT, for example, one of the first drugs used in AIDS treatment.
Nucleosides are made up of a base and sugar. Goodchild seeks a greener approach to their creation. He uses a substance that acts like sugar but isn’t sugar.
Sugar needs heavy metals or other toxic materials to create nucleosides during the chemical reaction, he said. The sugar substitutes, which react like sugar, may not. Thus, the nucleoside experiments may offer a greener way of making nucleosides.
We’ve done preliminary studies to see whether the sugar substitutes react with the base, he said. It looks promising.
The we includes some 27 undergraduates who have worked with Goodchild either as independent study students or as researcher pairs during the last four weeks of an organic chemistry class lab.
Goodchild used his 2007-2008 mini-grant, A New Way of Making Nucleosides, to purchase chemicals and glassware for this research.
The nucleosides they are developing may have uses in the creation of new drugs, Goodchild said. That’s the promise of this research. The student researchers are getting closer to this as they continue experimenting with sugar substitutes in the equation.
Godchild’s progress on the more complex question isn’t as promising. He wonders how nucleosides were made before there were any living things.
Scientists trying to figure out how any life started on earth need to grapple with that problem. It’ll take more than a mini-grant to solve it.