Biology professor listed among top 25 for HBCUs

Joseph Onyilagha-1PINE BLUFF, Ark. – University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) Biology professor Dr. Joseph Onyilagha was recognized and listed among the top 25 Professors at Affordable Historically Black Colleges at for his research on the origins of the genetic code using the standard amino acid alphabet to track early and late components in code evolution.

“I am excited about the recognition,” said Onyilagha. “This is for my department (Biology) and UAPB – it shows the high quality research coming out of [the institution]. Through this research, NASA has recognized our University as an institution with serious scientific thinkers and doers”.

Dr. Onyilagha was one of five recipients of the 2013 NASA award to conduct research in Astrobiology. His research goal is to update scientific knowledge on the emergence of a standard alphabet of 20 genetically encoded amino acids. The research will explore the idea that the standard amino acid alphabet comprises a mixture of “early” versus “late” members; that is, some amino acids were available prebiotically and were therefore present from the start of genetic coding; others evolved later, as “inventions” of early metabolism. Dr. Onyilagha will analyze the metabolic pathways at work in living organisms (and the molecules responsible for producing them) so as to provide evidence-based information into ancient molecular evolution, such as the steps by which life’s biochemical framework first emerged.

Dr. Onyilagha has presently received additional funding from NASA to present his findings at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference at Woodlands, Texas in March. He will be attending this conference with one undergraduate student.

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