Skip to main content

Repeating cycles of chemically-driven RNA replication within model protocells


Deciphering how nucleic acids replicated in the absence of genetically encoded enzymes is of critical importance to understanding the onset of Darwinian evolution. While much effort has been put into developing chemically-driven copying of RNA exploiting activated monomers, many unsolved issues stand in the way of achieving repeated cycles of non-enzymatic RNA replication. Non-enzymatic copying of a template strand results in the formation of an RNA duplex, which must then be denatured in order for subsequent rounds of replication to take place. Although RNA strands can be separated by heating, re-annealing kinetically outcompetes slow non-enzymatic copying, thus inhibiting RNA amplification. One unexplored solution to this problem is to physically separate melted strands of RNA so that re-annealing is not possible. Since all known living systems exploit lipid membranes, we propose to investigate whether protocellular compartments can facilitate the emergence of simplistic chemical systems that amplify RNA. Specifically, high temperatures are known to induce both RNA strand separation and bilayer defects, ultimately allowing for the partial leakage of RNA. If the transition temperature of the lipid membrane is higher than the melting temperature of the RNA, then subsequent slow cooling would recover the original impermeability of the membrane and give rise to a fraction of protocellular structures containing stochastic numbers of single RNA strands. At this stage, feeding with permeable activated short (oligo)nucleotides would lead to renewed copying of RNA. This highly original and multidisciplinary project combines the strength of organic and supramolecular chemistry to optimise prebiotic compartments with the power of in situ non-enzymatic RNA biochemistry to yield a project of excellent, innovative science that will exploit my expertise in protocellular systems while providing me extensive training in organic synthesis, chemical biology and biophysics.

Field of science

  • /natural sciences/biological sciences/biochemistry/biomolecules/nucleic acid
  • /natural sciences/biological sciences/biophysics
  • /natural sciences/biological sciences/genetics and heredity/nucleotide
  • /natural sciences/biological sciences/biochemistry
  • /natural sciences/biological sciences/biochemistry/biomolecules/proteins/enzymes

Call for proposal

See other projects for this call

Funding Scheme

MSCA-IF-EF-ST - Standard EF


Polaris House North Star Avenue
SN2 1FL Swindon
United Kingdom
Activity type
Research Organisations
EU contribution
€ 224 933,76