Prof. Nathalie Katsonis
University of Groningen
Our research aims at uncovering some of the molecular mechanisms at the origin of functional movement, in systems of interacting molecules.
Movement is a defining feature of life. It enables bacteria to overcome diffusion when seeking nutrients and is essential in eukaryotes to achieve embryogenesis. This functional movement is born at the level of molecular interactions, yet we still do not know how motile molecular systems emerged in the early Earth’s oceans. It is likely that prebiotic compartments (so called protocells) gained an evolutionary advantage in terms of persistence, through directional and tactic motion, as it was advantageous for them to reach material that sustained their existence. The formation of protocells and purposeful movement are thus both physicochemical processes that are essential to life, and must have appeared around the same geological times. So far, the quest to uncover how protocells emerged has focused on lipids, as there is growing evidence that lipids were ubiquitous in primordial oceans, in the form of vesicles for example. However, three major blind spots remain in this lipid world theory: where the lipids came from, how microscopic compartments developed active motility towards light or nutrients, and how oligomers have emerged.
I will discuss some of the ideas on which we are working in order to fill these fundamental gaps in our understanding for the chemical origin of movement.