Compartmentalized prebiotic ensembles: using droplet microfluidics to find novel and extinct groups of cooperative molecules
Speaker: Dr. Rebecca Turk MacLeod (University of Glasgow)
The question of how life could have arisen from non-living molecular systems is not only fundamentally and philosophically interesting, but it requires us to closely examine the common features of life as we know it, and to imagine the possibilities for life as we do not know it. While much progress has been made elucidating possible chemical systems as candidates for early pre-biological reactions, little is known about the true catalytic and informational capabilities of small, prebiotically relevant molecules in compartmentalized, micron-scale systems. I aim to address this by using droplet microfluidics to generate encapsulated molecular systems as protocell analogues, containing RNA molecules, short amino acid oligomers, and non-standard biochemical ensembles. We can use automated tools to generate, manipulate and analyze these systems in real time, selecting entities of interest for reproduction (droplet splitting), recombination (droplet fusion) or chemical analysis. Using these techniques, I hope to find novel and/or extinct catalysts and mechanisms of information transfer in the absence of canonical genetic material.