Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute | About RPI | Academics | Research | Student Life | Admissions | News & Information
Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Rensselaer Chemistry and Chemical Biology
James P. Ferris
*
* *
Home Undergraduate Graduate Research Faculty Facilities Students News
* * *
James P. Ferris

Research Professor, Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology
Director, New York Center for Studies on the Origins of Life
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Education:
Ph.D., Natural Products Chemistry, Indiana University
B.S., Chemistry, University of Pennsylvania

Career Highlights:
Postdoctoral studies were performed at MIT and the Salk Institute. Ferris joined RPI in 1967 and in 1969 was awarded a NIH Career Award which enabled him to expand the scope of his studies to research programs at the interface of chemistry and biology. Visiting appointments were at the NASA Ames Research Center, the Eidgenossiche Technische Hochschule in Zurich and the Salk Institute. He served as editor of the Journal Origins of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere for 18 years and chaired the NASA Exobiology Advisory Committee for five years. Ferris is a Trustee of the Universities Space Research Association representing the Northeastern US region. In 1996 he was awarded the Oparin Medal of the International Society for the Study of the Origins of Life for his research on the origins of life.

Research Areas:
Origins of Life

The synthesis of biological macromolecules under conditions which may have existed on the primitive earth is an area of current investigation. The emphasis is on pathways for the formation of oligomers of RNA since it has been demonstrated that RNA has catalytic properties in addition to its ability to store genetic information. This finding suggests that RNA may have had a central function in the first life on the primitive earth. Our studies have shown that clay minerals will catalyze the formation of the RNA aqueous solution. This facile prebiotic synthesis is consistent with the theory that RNA was the most important biopolymer in the first life on Earth. Current studies focus on the prebiotic synthesis of RNA catalysts.

Atmospheric Photochemistry
The photochemical reactions proceeding in the atmospheres of other planets and moons in the solar system are part of a research program with direct connections with the NASA program of planetary exploration. One project in this effort is the investigation of the question of how HCN and organic chromophores form in the atmosphere of Jupiter. Our results strongly suggest that both substances are formed by the photochemical reaction of ammonia with acetylene. A second project in this program is concerned with the photochemical synthesis and reactions of cyanoacetylene in the atmosphere of Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. This research program will not only answer questions concerning the atmospheric chemistry of Titan but will also provide insight into chemical processes on the primitive earth. These studies have direct application to the analyses of data from NASA missions to Jupiter and Titan.

Selected Publications:

            (1)        Joshi, P. C.; Aldersley, M. F.; Ferris, J. P. "Homochiral Selectivity in Rna Synthesis: Montmorillonite-Catalyzed Quaternary Reactions of D, L-Purine with D, L- Pyrimidine Nucleotides" Origins Life Evol. Biosphere 2011, 41, 213-236.

            (2)        Cassidy, L. M.; Dong, Y.; Joshi, P. C.; Aldersley, M. F.; Ferris, J. P.; McGown, L. B. "Signal Enhancement of Abiotically-Synthesized Rna Oligonucleotides and Other Biopolymers Using Unmodified Fused Silica in Maldi-Ms" J. Am. Soc. Mass. Spectrom. 2011, 22, 1100-1104.

            (3)        Vuitton, V.; Tran, B. N.; Persans, P. D.; Ferris, J. P. "Determination of the Complex Refractive Indices of Titan Haze Analogs Using Photothermal Deflection Spectroscopy" Icarus 2009, 203, 663-671.

            (4)        Joshi, P. C.; Aldersley, M. F.; Delano, J. W.; Ferris, J. P. "Mechanism of Montmorillonite Catalysis in the Formation of Rna Oligomers" J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2009, 131, 13369-13374.

            (5)        Aldersley, M. F.; Joshi, P.; Delano, J.; Ferris, J. P. "Rna Synthesis by Mineral Catalysis" Origins Life Evol. Biosphere 2009, 39, 200-200.

            (6)        Aldersley, M. F.; Ferris, J. P. "The Further Development of Rna Synthesis with Mineral Catalysis" Origins Life Evol. Biosphere 2009, 39, 297-297.

            (7)        Tran, B. N.; Force, M.; Briggs, R. G.; Ferris, J. P.; Persans, P.; Chera, J. J. "Titan's Atmospheric Chemistry: Photolysis of Gas Mixtures Containing Hydrogen Cyanide and Carbon Monoxide at 185 and 254 Nm" Icarus 2008, 193, 224-232.

            (8)        Joshi, P. C.; Pitsch, S.; Ferris, J. P. "Selectivity of Montmorillonite Catalyzed Prebiotic Reactions of D, L-Nucleotides" Origins Life Evol. Biosphere 2007, 37, 3-26.

            (9)        Zagorevskii, D. V.; Aldersley, M. F.; Ferris, J. P. "Maldi Analysis of Oligonucleotides Directly from Montmorillonite" J. Am. Soc. Mass. Spectrom. 2006, 17, 1265-1270.

            (10)       Miyakawa, S.; Joshi, P. C.; Gaffey, M. J.; Gonzalez-Toril, E.; Hyland, C.; Ross, T.; Rybij, K.; Ferris, J. P. "Studies in the Mineral and Salt-Catalyzed Formation of Rna Oligomers" Origins Life Evol. Biosphere 2006, 36, 343-361.

            (11)       Leach, S.; Bernstein, M.; Westall, F.; Lunine, J. I.; Wallis, M.; Matthews, C. N.; Ferris, J. P. "Prebiotic Materials from on and Off the Early Earth - Discussion" Philos. Trans. R. Soc. London, Ser. B 2006, 361, 1700-1702.

            (12)       Huang, W. H.; Ferris, J. P. "One-Step, Regioselective Synthesis of up to 50-Mers of Rna Oligomers by Montmorillonite Catalysis" J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2006, 128, 8914-8919.

            (13)       Ferris, J. P.; Tran, B. N.; Vuitton, V.; Joseph, J.; Persans, P.; Chera, J. J.; Briggs, R.; Force, M. "Labortory Simulation of Photochemistry on Titan and Comparison with Available Huygens Data" Origins Life Evol. Biosphere 2006, 36, 331-332.

            (14)       Ferris, J. P.; Joshi, P.; Aldersley, M.; Miyakawa, S.; Huang, W.; Wang, K.-J. "Mineral Catalysis and Prebiotic Synthesis" Origins Life Evol. Biosphere 2006, 36, 212-212.

            (15)       Ferris, J. P. "Montmorillonite-Catalysed Formation of Rna Oligomers: The Possible Role of Catalysis in the Origins of Life" Philos. Trans. R. Soc. London, Ser. B 2006, 361, 1777-1786.

            (16)       Aldersley, M. F.; Ferris, J. P.; Huang, W.; Joshi, P. C.; Zagorevski, D. "Oligonucleotides from Montmorillonite Catalysis; Analysis and Modelling" Origins Life Evol. Biosphere 2006, 36, 289-291.

            (17)       Tran, B. N.; Joseph, J. C.; Force, M.; Briggs, R. G.; Vuitton, V.; Ferris, J. P. "Photochemical Processes on Titan: Irradiation of Mixtures of Gases That Simulate Titan's Atmosphere" Icarus 2005, 177, 106-115.

            (18)       Ferris, J. P. "Catalysis and Prebiotic Synthesis" Molecular Geomicrobiology 2005, 59, 187-210.

            (19)       Ferris, J. P. "Mineral Catalysis and Prebiotic Synthesis: Montmorillonite-Catalyzed Formation of Rna" Elements 2005, 1, 145-149.

*

RPI Home > Academics > School of Science > Chemistry & Chemical Biology:
Home Undergraduate Graduate Research Faculty Facilities Students News

 Copyright ©2005 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. All rights reserved.