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On the beginnings of biology

München, 06/26/2015

LMU researchers plan to set up a new transdisciplinary research network devoted to the experimental study of the origins of life. The Origins of Life Initiative Munich (OLIM) will be formally established on July 3rd.

Source: Juancat /

What processes enabled non-living matter to give rise to systems capable of replication, mutation and selection, which are the hallmarks of biological evolution? How could such early molecular life establish itself? And what energy sources and metabolic networks sustained the very first cycles of molecular evolution? “Now is the time to divide the problem of the origin of life into experimentally tractable and testable hypotheses,” says Dieter Braun, Professor of Systems Biophysics at LMU Munich and a member of the Nanosystems Initiative Munich.

To promote an interdisciplinary approach to the experimental study of the origin of life, scientists around the Center for Nanoscience (CeNS) and the Nanosystems Initiative Munich (NIM) at LMU have decided to form a new research network: the Origin of Life Initiative Munich (OLIM). OLIM will be inaugurated on the occasion of a lecture to be given by the renowned prebiotic chemist John Sutherland (MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge) on July 3rd 2015. “The aim of the network is to discover experimentally verifiable facts that shed light on the question of how molecules could autonomously evolve into living systems,” Braun explains.

Specialists in various disciplines have worked together at the Center for Nanoscience (CeNS) and the Nanosystems Initiative Munich (NIM) for several years now. The OLIM network will build on this tradition of collaboration to explore ‘the nanoscience of the origin of life’. The network will be based at the LMU, but will maintain close links with groups at the Technical University of Munich and the Max Planck Institutes for Astronomy and Biochemistry. “With its broad range of expertise, LMU offers a uniquely favorable setting in which the young discipline of experimental research on the origins of life can realize its full potential,” says Dieter Braun.

The network will bring together scientists from different backgrounds are genuinely interested to obtain an experimental understanding of the processes that initiated the evolutionary dynamics which initiated the transformation of an initially dead planet into the rich biosphere we know today.

Modern Origin of Life research draws on insights from the fields of astronomy, geology, chemistry, physics and last but not least, biology. New experiments attempt to elucidate both the astronomical and geological conditions that made the formation of the first biological molecules possible. At the center of the problem are the non-equilibrium processes which enabled the first cycles of evolution based on replication, mutation and selection.

While these issues lie within the ambit of basic research, investigations of the origin of biology have often led to innovative biotechnological applications. The CeNS alone has spawned a number of fast-growing biotechnology startups, such as Nanion and NanoTemper. Indeed, Nanotemper originated from Origin of Life research on thermal gradients – and within only 5 years has become a worldwide enterprise located in Munich, employing more than 70 people.

John Sutherland’s lecture takes place on July 3rd at 15.30 in the CeNS Seminar (Room H 030). For further information, see the Center for Nanoscience’s website