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Replication and Adaptation in Molecular Networks

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Networks and the chemistry of mixtures

An EU team studied the chemistry of complex chemical networks. The project brought together the research of various EU institutions on the topic and provided training for researchers.

Fundamental Research icon Fundamental Research

Many scientific disciplines involve study of complex networks. Yet, until recently, chemistry did not; chemists traditionally studied substances in isolation because complex mixtures were too difficult to work with. The EU-funded READ (Replication and adaptation in molecular networks) project studied the chemistry of complex mixtures. Many European academic institutions have begun such studies, made possible following the development of new analytical tools. The project united the various institutions into a network intended to research systems chemistry, including molecular networks. READ also provided a consolidated training programme on the subject embedded within the research programme. Project research focused on two complimentary types of synthetic molecular network: kinetically and thermodynamically controlled. The former type is illustrated by self-replicating systems, whereas dynamic combinatorial libraries demonstrate the latter. Such fields have numerous specialised applications, a few of which include: self-synthesis of electrically conductive materials, chemical detection and assessment of molecular similarity for anti-counterfeiting. The first part of the research involved study of competition between self-replicating molecules in reaction-diffusion systems. The team discovered the first example of bistability in a system of self-replicators which is a new emergent phenomenon of complex replicator networks. Investigations into new materials from dynamic combinatorial libraries revealed a new way of creating supramolecular polymers with controlled length and polydispersity. The team also developed a new sensor for toxic mercury, and achieved the first instance of Darwinian evolution of self-assembling self-replicators. Further work yielded dynamic combinatorial sensors for bioanalysis, including sensors for antibiotics. The study of complex mixtures produced an important expansion of analytical techniques. Finally, the team started work on anti-counterfeiting methods based on self-assembling materials, although the phase did not yield a potentially commercial application. READ’s training network helped develop the careers of 15 early-stage researchers. The work yielded over 25 papers, including several published in prestigious journals. The project’s network helped structure the European Research Area (ERA). The consortium established new collaborations and equipped young scientists with the skills necessary for further research in the promising new field of systems chemistry.


Chemistry, complex mixtures, READ, molecular networks, self-replicating, anti-counterfeiting

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