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Control over the emergence of self-replicators in dynamic molecular networks

PhD ceremony:Ms G. Leonetti
When:December 09, 2016
Supervisor:prof. dr. S. (Sijbren) Otto
Where:Academy building RUG
Faculty:Science and Engineering
Control over the emergence of self-replicators in dynamic molecular

The quest for the origin of life requires the understanding of how the cells, the simplest living organisms, could have assembled from simple molecules to the point of bearing fundamental properties as self-replication (i.e. the ability to make copies of itself) and being capable of converting food into energy.

This thesis focuses on the behavior of self-replicating molecules under different experimental conditions. The ultimate aim would be to give rise to a fully synthetic system that can be defined as “living”. Our group recently discovered that a class of simple building blocks could give rise to self-replicating molecules. Taking inspiration from living entities, we subjected the building blocks to different environments, finding that different replicators emerge accordingly; the change in environment was obtained with the addition of a second solvent other than water in the samples containing the building blocks. The population of replicators in a sample also changes if a gradual change in environment is being applied. Furthermore, competition between two replicators in a specific environment can be observed if they need common resources to maintain their own population. Finally, studies on mixtures of replicators to give rise to evolutionary pathways (similar to evolution of biological species) are reported.

The same class of molecules has also been employed in the development of small-sized polymers with a narrow range of lengths, showing therefore their versatility and demonstrating we can control their properties.