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Towards Synthetic Life: Prebiotic reactions in Thermal Traps

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How could life originate? What is the origin of Life? We explore solutions for this grand problem by building life-like systems bottom up in the lab. The aim is to establish the first autonomously evolving molecular system. We search for physical chemists or chemists for a PhD in physics.

In the past, we showed that a thermal gradient is an ideal environment for oligonucleotides to undergo replication and length selection, both required for Darwinian evolution. However, the template based polymerization of DNA required a polymerase. With recent advances in the RNA-polymerization of 3'-5'-cGMP at >80°C in bulk water we want to explore the prebiotic polymerization in thermal traps.

Our previous work (PNAS 2013) showed that polymerization escalates in a thermal trap, however the experiments were restricted to the analysis of DNA with sticky ends. Now we will explore RNA which polymerizes from scratch using low concentrations of cGMP.

As a second project we will explore synthesis reactions in pH gradients from two prebiotic fluids: iron-dominated and sulfur-dominated. We have already established a high pressure microfluidic setup to implement and image the pH gradients in the FeS-forming membrane when the two fluids come in contact. This extends the experiments by Wächtershäuser into the non-equilibrium realm. With existing PTR-MS and GC-MS we want to study the synthesis of first prebiotic molecules in the pH gradients. Besides the microfluidic setting, also vesicle-based approaches would be targeted.

We recently invited to the international network of the Simons foundation on the Origins of Life which is a small group of experts in this field. The foundation will fund the projects and allow for worldwide collaborations with the groups of Szostak, Joyce, Sutherland, Powner and Whitesides.

Our lab follows a strategy of periodic re-evalution of projects, which avoids time-consuming dead-ends in research and keeps the possibility for several publications within one PhD as high as possible. This, our flat hierarchy structure and the open and friendly work atmosphere are the fundament for your successful work. We are located in the center of Schwabing in Munich (yeah!).

Through the DFG funding of this PhD (2/3 position, 3 years), we are tightly connected with the theory group of Prof. Ulrich Gerland (TU Munich) to allow complex modeling of the chemical network reactions. Our small and independent lab (www.biosystems.physik.lmu.de) has a strong background in interdisciplinary biophysics. We regularly publish in PNAS, PRL, JACS and Angewandte and have attracted in the past DFG funding, an ERC Starting Grant and now a Simons Foundation Grant.

We have won a number of prices (e.g. Klung Wilhelmy Weberbank Price) and found a very successful startup company (www.nanotemper.de). We are member of the Center for Nanoscience (www.cens.de), the NanoSystems Initiative Munich and are member of the graduate school “Quantitative Bioscience Munich” (www.qbm.genzentrum.lmu.de).

You are welcome if you have a master in physical chemistry, chemistry or a ma­ster in physics with a very strong experimental background in chemistry. We are experienced in successfully hosting PhD students from neighboring disciplines which graduated in physics.

You perfectly fit into our group and the project if you like to work in and explore a physically dominated, highly interdisciplinary environment which also demands team-working and commu­nication skills.

Contact detail

How to apply:
Please send your application by email with CV, publication record and master track record. Provide information why this PhD thesis would match your skills and motivations.
Send application to
Prof. Dieter Braun Systems Biophysics, LMU Munich www.biosystems.physik.lmu.de
Phone: ++49 89 2180 2317
Amalienstr. 54, D-80799 München, Germany

Job profile

Working hours
Contract duration
Type of job
PhD Project
Work experience
job experience is not required
Germany (Bayern)
Working place
80799 München, Schwabing
Area of expertise
Chemistry, Physics, Biotechnology