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Final Report Summary - READ (Replication and Adaptation in Molecular Networks)

Research into complex networks is well established in most major scientific disciplines, including computer science, biology, mathematics and physics, but not in chemistry. Chemists traditionally study substances in isolation. There used to be a very good reason for this: for a long time complex mixtures were simply intractable. Yet with the rapid development of analytical tools this situation has changed and the study of complex mixtures has already resulted in some useful applications. Thus, there is now a great opportunity for chemists to start embracing complexity. This network brings together nearly all major academic players active in Europe on experimental approaches to Systems Chemistry in general and molecular networks in particular. Aim of this high-level consortium is to provide a consolidated training program on Systems Chemistry, in the context of a cutting-edge research program.
Our research program is built around a core element of Systems Chemistry: synthetic molecular networks. We focused on two complementary types of networks: kinetically controlled and thermodynamically controlled networks. The principal exponents of these areas are self-replicating systems (kinetically controlled) and dynamic combinatorial libraries (thermodynamically controlled). This ITN aims to bring these two fields together through a comprehensive research and training program encompassing the entire spectrum of research on synthetic molecular networks.
These subjects were developed aiming at application in enantioselective organoautocatalysis, molecular Boolean logic protocols, self-synthesising materials that exhibit electronic conductivity and adaptive biological functionality, sensing of bio-analytes, assessing molecular similarity and materials for anti-counterfeiting. The scientific program features five partially overlapping work packages:
WP1: Autocatalysis in complex molecular networks
Highlights of this work-package were the study of competition between self-replicating molecules in reaction-diffusion systems and the discovery of the first example of bistability in a system of self-replicators. Thus new emergent phenomena of complex replicator networks have been uncovered.
WP2: New materials from dynamic combinatorial libraries (DCLs)
Various breakthroughs have been realized. The network discovered a new way of making supramolecular polymers with controlled length and polydispersity – two aspects that are notoriously hard to control in supramolecular polymers. Also a novel sensors for toxic mercury ions has been obtained. In further work Darwinian evolution of self-assembling self-replicators has been achieved – the first example of such behavior in a system of non-biological molecules; a result we did not anticipate we would be able to achieve.
WP3: Dynamic combinatorial libraries for sensing and assessing molecular similarity
New optical dynamic combinatorial sensors for bio-analytes have been produced including sensors for antibiotics. These are probably the simplest sensors to produce and implement of all systems studies in this network.
WP4: Analytical chemistry of complex mixtures
New NMR techniques have been developed that led to collaborative papers between network partners and even between the ReAd ITN and the Dynamol ITN. This work resulted in an important expansion of the portfolio of analytical techniques that is offered by our industrial partner NMRTEC.
WP5: Complex materials for anti-counterfeiting
Work has started towards the development of novel anti-counterfeiting solutions based on self-assembling materials, although circumstances and timeframe did not allow this work to be completed to give a commercial product.
Overall the network was highly successful: it made a lasting impact on the careers of 15 early-stage researchers and led to over 25 scientific papers, including many articles in prestigious and high-impact journals, including Nature Chemistry, J.Am.Chem.Soc. and Angew. Chem. The network also made a lasting contribution to structuring the European Research Area by establishing new collaborations and delivering a new generation of young scientists with unique expertise in the rapidly growing but still small field of systems chemistry.
More details of the network can be found on:

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