Skip to main content
European Commission logo print header

Protometabolic pathways: exploring the chemical roots of systems biology

Project description

Insight into the origins of life

Before the emergence of life on our planet, metabolic-like chemical reactions were likely catalysed, in part, by metals as opposed to protein enzymes. However, it remains unknown how such processes could have led to the development of cell-like structures and the evolution of life as we know it today. To shed light on these questions, the EU-funded ProtoMet project aims to reconstitute protocellular compartments in vitro and recapitulate specific metabolic processes that may have taken place billions of years ago. Project results will help solve mysteries surrounding the origin of life and provide a deeper understanding of the chemical underpinnings of extant biology. Additionally, they will aid efforts in developing new life-like technologies.


Understanding how prebiotic chemistry gave rise to life as we know it represents one of the greatest enduring mysteries. The complete absence of a historical record requires the collaboration of scientists from different disciplines with access to advanced tools in order to make any meaningful progress. Here, we plan to exploit this tremendous challenge to train a new generation of scientists to think big, but also to work methodically and logically alongside colleagues from academia and industry. Eight Early-Stage Researchers (ESRs) will be recruited to work in laboratories with expertise in systems chemistry, synthetic biology, microfluidics, and science philosophy to develop together a reconstituted protometabolism within compartments consisting of coacervates, vesicles, coacervate containing vesicles, and compartments etched into microfluidic chips. The underlying protometabolism will be composed of triose glycolysis and a reverse citric acid cycle and will be regulated by (metallo)peptide catalysts. Importantly, the protometabolism will support the maintenance of the compartment that houses the protocell. The ESRs that primarily focus on the construction of compartments that mimic protocellular structures will gain firsthand experience in how their formulations could be exploited as drug delivery vehicles through secondments at partner organizations. Similarly, the ESRs that develop (metallo)peptide catalysts will apply their newfound skills to the development of drug molecules through a secondment at a company that specializes in metallodrug formulations. Ultimately, by becoming experts in elucidating the chemical underpinnings of all known living cells, the ESRs will be extremely well positioned to enter a wide variety of research fields from synthetic biology to medicinal chemistry in either industry or academia.


Net EU contribution
€ 261 499,68
Via calepina 14
38122 Trento

See on map

Nord-Est Provincia Autonoma di Trento Trento
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00

Participants (7)

Partners (3)