Molecular Evolution

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Principal Investigators

Prof. Dr. Karen Alimalim

Center for Functional Protein Assemblies (TUM)
Phone: +49 89 289 12192

Flow networks are a fundamental building block of life, whether as blood circulation, bronchioles in the lungs, nephron in the kidneys, intestines, lymphatic system or as the hydrothermal vents providing the conditions for the emergence of life. We want to decipher the physical principles that govern flow network architecture through the interaction between network architecture and the flows flowing through it. To this end we investigate flows, transport and reactions within and remodeling flow networks.

Prof. Dr. Dieter Braunbraun

Systems Biophysics (LMU)
Phone: +49 89 2180 1484

Can we understand the mechanisms that lead to the Darwinian evolution of the first living molecules on the early Earth? We focus on recreating the first steps of molecular evolution in the lab by using microscale experiments. We investigate the nonequilibrium settings that can host molecular evolution by an unexpected combination of molecular, thermal and fluidic effects leading to accumulation, replication and selection of genetic molecules.

Prof. Dr. Barbara Ercolano ercolano

University Observatory Munich (LMU)
Phone: +49 89 2180 6974

Our research focuses two fundamental processes in astrophysics; star and planet formations, which are intertwined. We aim to obtain a holistic picture of this complex phenomenon. The atmospheric chemistry of a planet is dramatically influenced by the formation process within the disc and by the irradiation from the central star. We  develop and apply numerical models to ground-based and space-borne observations to understand this interaction that leads to the formation of habitable worlds.

Prof. Dr. Ulrich Gerland gerland

Physics of Complex Biosystems (TUM)
Phone: +49 89 289 12394

We want to understand how the laws of physics constrain the implementation of biological function. In physics, interactions between particles follow laws. In biology, interactions between biomolecules serve a function. For instance, spatial arrangement and coordination of enzymes determine the efficiency of a multi-step reaction. Functional trade-offs emerge, which must be characterized to understand the optimization of such systems.

Prof. Dr. Kerstin Göpfrichgoepfrich

Center for Molecular Biology - ZMBH (Heidelberg Uni)
Phone: +49 6221 486 443

Bottom-up synthetic biology conventionally isolates and subsequently recombines biomolecules from cells. Instead of copying life as we know it, we try to engineer cells featuring new ways of assembly, information propagation and replication. Towards this goal, we combine biophysical tools, including DNA origami, microfluidics, lipid vesicles and 3D printing with experimental methods, like confocal and high-speed microscopy, atomic force microscopy, cryo-electron microscopy and computational approaches.

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Hecklheckl

Oskar-von-Miller Chair of Scientific Communication (TUM)
Director General of the Deutsches Museum
Phone: +49 89 2179 313/314

The Deutsches Museum with its branch museums is an outstanding place for communicating scientific and technical knowledge and for a constructive dialogue between science and society. Together with the members of the CRC 392 we try to make the scientific work on origins of life more accessible to general public.

Prof. Dr. Claudia Höbartnerhoebartner

Organic and Biomolecular Chemistry (Uni Würzburg)
Phone: +49 931 31 89693

Explore with us the exciting chemistry of nucleic acids! We synthesize chemically modified DNA and RNA, develop DNA catalysts, ribozymes and RNA aptamers, and explore their functions and innovative applications at the interface of chemistry and biology.

Prof. Dr. Andres Jäschkejaeschke

Institute of Pharmacy and Molecular Biotechnology (Heidelberg Uni)
Phone: +49 6221 54 4851

We explore unknown roles of RNA modifications, in particular RNA-linked coenzymes, in biology. Furthermore, we develop methods for imaging and microscopy of RNA in living cells, with a focus on super-resolution techniques. In another research area we develop, characterize and apply photoswitchable biomolecules. We also have a long-standing interest in the origin of life. Our work combines organic synthesis with molecular and cellular biology, biochemistry, bioinformatics and modern bioanalytical methods.

Dr. Christof Mastmast

Systems Biophysics (LMU)
Phone: +49 89 2180 1484

We are interested in the role of non-equilibrium physical systems in processes relevant to the origin of life. Specifically, we are investigating how heat fluxes can separate and concentrate prebiotically relevant chemicals as well as the influence of UV radiation on sequence evolution in prebiotic polymer pools and combine these systems with realistic geological boundary conditions.

Prof. Dr. Hannes Mutschlermutschler

Biomimetic Systems (TU Dortmund)
Phone: +49 231 755 8696

We are interested in the bottom-up reconstitution of minimal genetic systems capable of recursive replication and Darwinian Evolution. Moreover, we are exploring different prebiotic environments for their ability to assist the emergence primitive RNA-enzymes during the Origin of Life. We employ a variety of methods from protein and nucleic acid biochemistry, genome assembly, directed evolution, and deep sequencing.

Prof. Dr. Henrike Niederholtmeyerniederholtmeyer

Professorship Synthetic Biology (TUM Campus Straubing)
Phone: +49 9421 187 398

Our goal is to construct artificial, life-like systems from simple biochemical and synthetic building blocks. Using this approach, we aim to gain an improved fundamental understanding of natural biological systems and to develop new materials and reaction systems that may find applications in bio- and nanotechnology. We use and develop microfluidic technology, cell-free transcription and translation (TX-TL) systems and assemble new systems with life-like functionalites not only with biological but also with combinations of natural and synthetic.

Prof. Dr. William Orsiorsi

Palaeontology & Geobiology (LMU)
Phone: +49 89 2180 6601

We are focused on biogeochemical cycling of carbon and its processing through microbial food webs. At deep sea low temperature hydrothermal vents chemolithoautotrophic microbes are able to fix CO2 in the absence of sunlight, fueled by geological energy sources. These settings exhibit water-rock interactions and abiotic chemistry called serpentinization, whereby the abiotic synthesis of organic molecules occurs in a naturally exiting proton gradient. This is hypothesized to be analogous to the metabolism of the first cell. We are interested in the genomic evolution of this ancient bioenergetic pathway throughout the geological record, its role in the origins of life, and the mechanisms by which it supports life and ecosystems.

Prof. Dr. Clemens Richertrichert

Institute of Organic Chemistry (Uni Stuttgart)
Phone: +49 711 685 64311

We study potentially prebiotic processes from the organic chemistry point of view. This includes reactions involving nucleotides, amino acids and cofactors in aqueous solution containing a condensing agent and buffer salts. Product analysis is performed using spectroscopic, spectrometric and chromatographic techniques to shed light on the reactivity of fundamental biomolecules that are found in all kingdoms of life.

Prof. Dr. Bettina Scheuscheu

Section of Mineralogy, Petrology und Geochemistry (LMU)
Phone: +49 89 3187 4259

Volcanoes are the most spectacular expression of geologic dynamism on Earth as well as on other planets. Geological evidences show that volcanoes on Earth have been active before the appearance of life above and below the oceans, thus contributing to the conditions for which life has originated and subsequently proliferated. We experimentally investigate the conditions of generation and dispersion of solid aerosols, their electrification and their reactivity with volcanic and other gases as well as the high temperature and pressure conditions of hydrothermal vents that might have contributed to the origin of life on our planet.

Prof. Dr. Philippe Schmitt-Kopplinschmitt-kopplin

Chair of Analytical Food Chemistry (TUM School of Life Sciences)
Phone: +49 89 3187 3246

We describe the small molecule chemistry of life (Metabolomics), life-decay (organic geochemistry) and “pre-life” (prebiotic and meteoritic chemistry) using an analytical combination of high resolving power. We profile the compositional space of these organic environments with ultrahigh resolution mass spectrometry (ICR-FT-MS) and the functional space with high field nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR). Our output is a process understanding on a molecular level and/or the description of molecular markers of biological, geochemical or astrochemical relevance.

Prof. Dr. Petra Schwilleschwille

Cellular and Molecular Biophysics (MPI of Biochemistry)
Phone: +49 89 8578 2900

Our ambition is to quantitatively understand living systems on the scale of individually active and interactive molecules such as proteins, lipids and nucleic acids. To unravel the underlying basic principles of biological phenomena, we follow a bottom-up approach of minimal systems in the framework of synthetic biology. The very far goal of such approaches could be the in vitro reconstitution of a self-replicating biomimetic system.

Prof. Dr. Friedrich Simmelsimmel

Physics of Synthetic Biological Systems (TUM)
Phone: +49 89 289 11611

We explore the pysicochemical properties of natural and artificial biomolecular systems and their potential applications in nanotechnology and synthetic biology. The goal is the realization of self-organizing molecular and cellular systems that are able to respond to their environment, compute, move, take action. On the long term, we envision autonomous systems that are reconfigurable, that can evolve and develop.

Dr. Golo Storchstorch

Chair of Organic Chemistry (TUM)
Phone: +49 89 289 14591

We focus on applying flavins as catalysts in the organic laboratory. To achieve this goal, we use state-of-the-art synthetic methodology, photochemistry, applied DFT calculations, and spectroscopy. Our long-term goals include contributing to an efficient as well as sustainable catalytic repertoire and applications in selective natural product editing.

Prof. Dr. Oliver Trapptrapp

Department of Chemistry (LMU)
Phone: +49 89 2180 77461

Are there universal principles which have led to the origin of life on Earth and how can we identify them? We are addressing fundamental questions about the formation of chemical networks that can form living systems. Major focus is the understanding of mechanisms that led to the homochirality of organic compounds, e.g. amino acids and sugars.

Prof. Dr. Christoph A. Weberweber

Mesoscopic Physics of Life (Uni Augsburg)
Phone: +49 821 598 3236

We are a theory group interested in the physics that is involved in the spatial organization of the cell cytoplasm and the formation of proto-cells at the origin of life. In both cases we focus on the role of compartmentalization as a mechanism that can provide a stable and protective environment of controlled chemical composition in order to selectively host certain molecular species. We aim to identify the physio-chemical mechanisms that underlie assembly, regulation and ageing of these compartments and understand the link between these mechanisms and how biological function emerges.

Prof. Dr. Daniel Weidendorferweidendorfer

Section of Mineralogy, Petrology und Geochemistry (LMU)
Phone: +49 89 2180 4274

We combine high temperature and high temperature-high pressure geochemistry to study igneous processes. In the field of origins of life, we focus on enrichment of prebiotic elements as well as the supply efficiency of prebiotic elements stored in volcanic rocks and hydrated glasses.

Prof. Dr. Cathleen Zeymerzeymer

Center for Functional Protein Assemblies (TUM)
Phone: +49 89 289 13343

Our focus is on the design and laboratory evolution of artificial metalloenzymes and photoenzymes. We engineer novel biocatalysts and want to understand their structure and molecular mechanism. In CRC 392, we aim to explore the potential and plausibility of simple metallopeptides as prebiotic catalysts. We will study these minimalist versions of modern enzymes in the context of RNA hydrolysis and ligation.