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FRINATEK-Fri prosj.st. mat.,naturv.,tek

DID SURFACES ENABLE THE ORIGINS OF LIFE? The role of interfaces in the emergence of primitive cells on the early Earth

Alternative title: Bidro overflater til livets opprinnelse? Grenseflater sin rolle i utviklingen av primitive celler på den tidlige Jorden

Awarded: NOK 12.0 mill.

How primitive cells emerged and developed on the early Earth is considered to be one of the unsolved fundamental scientific problems. The first primitive cells -the protocells- are commonly viewed as spherical shells, freely suspended in water that somehow self-assembled from fat molecules. This well explains formation, but not later steps of development. A possible key role of solid surfaces in protocell formation and development has not been deeply explored. My team recently made a breakthrough discovery that simple lipid assemblies can on a solid surface spontaneously develop into a network of cell-sized compartments, then autonomously grow, divide, and relocate. These findings not only open doors to the creation of life-like machines, artificial cells and soft computing devices, they also offer a fresh approach to the origins of life debate. SURIGINS aims to identify how the tiny energy gain arising from contact with naturally occurring surfaces drive unique multi-stage shape transformations of rough fat assemblies into organized dynamic primitive cells, and to establish feasible routes to protocell structures on rock and mineral surfaces associated with the early Earth and Mars. The project outcome can fundamentally change the way we think about the origins of life on our planet and on other parts of the solar system, e.g. Mars, and impact the way we perceive and model living systems today.

Have the capabilities of biosurfactant assemblies to undergo shape transformations been much underestimated? My team recently made a breakthrough discovery that simple lipid assemblies can on a solid surface spontaneously develop into a network of microcompartments, then autonomously grow, divide, and relocate. These findings not only open doors to the creation of life-like machines, artificial cells and soft computing devices, they also offer a fresh approach to the origins of life debate. I propose a research line which can answer some of the pending big questions about the origins of life. The first primitive cells are commonly viewed as spherical shells, freely suspended in aqueous medium that somehow self-assembled from fat molecules. This well explains initial, but not later steps, e.g. how containers divide autonomously. I intend to study how the tiny energy gain arising from contact with naturally occurring mineral and meteorite surfaces drive a unique multi-stage transformation of rough surfactant assemblies into organized nanotube-connected protocells. The project addresses: (i) which lipid species spontaneously form primitive cells on minerals and meteorites, (ii) how surfaces promote colony formation and encapsulation of prebiotic chemicals, (iii) If/how protocells communicate through nano-tubular interconnections. The project outcome has ground-breaking transformative potential. It can fundamentally change the way we think about the origins of life on our planet and on other parts of the solar system, e.g. Mars, and impact the way we perceive and model living systems today. Why me? Why now? Enabled by the latest interdisciplinary bionanotechnological and methodological developments, to which my team contributed significantly, the proposed hypothesis is ready to be tested. The subject of the development of life on Earth is of exceptionally broad interest, which puts SURIGINS at the forefront of research on a competitive international scale.

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FRINATEK-Fri prosj.st. mat.,naturv.,tek