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Mechanisms to emerge and replicate the first sequence information of life in geothermal microfluidics of early Earth


Can we reconstruct in the lab the onset of molecular evolution? To trigger the autonomous emergence of the first oligonucleotide sequences, we will explore non-equilibrium boundary conditions and selective mechanisms to host the fast progressing prebiotic replication chemistry of oligonucleotides. We will explore novel water-fog microfluidic settings to boost the replication and selection of the first RNA sequences. The findings aims to enable the creation of primitive life forms in the lab, starting from simple molecules in heated rock pores of early Earth.

Autonomous replication and metabolism. We will expand our thermal gradient expertise to host three replication chemistries. Using 3D printed microfluidics, we will mimick conditions in pores on early Earth. Thermophoresis will select long over short strands, accumulate small food molecules and strands will be separated by thermal convection and novel mechanisms in water-air systems. With respective collaboration partners, we will drive the replication from RNA ribozymes (Joyce), base-by-base RNA replication (Szostak) and EDC activated DNA ligation (Richert) and monitor the results with Illumina sequencing and TOF LC/MS. The ligation will be also explored with Taq ligase since we expect a cooperative replication dynamics with hypercycle-like characteristics. Thermal gradients will drive early metabolism to boost RNA polymerization and select ATP over ADP to drive modern biochemistry.

Sequence selection in low pressure water-air systems. Oligonucleotides bind to water-air interfaces. and can be accumulated 800-fold by heat-driven capillary flows. Based on this, we expect interesting selection effects under microfluidic boiling, fog formation and recondensation dynamics. The settings are tested for sequence selective hydro-gelation of RNA/DNA and enhanced replication chemistry. The temperature of boiling water will be limited below 60°C by using air pressures <200mbar, mimicking very early Earth conditions.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 2 364 500,00

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Bayern Oberbayern München, Kreisfreie Stadt
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 2 364 500,00

Beneficiaries (1)