Friday, May 25, 2012
What is life? How did life start on planet earth 3.5 billion years ago? Which molecules and chemical systems led to biology? Is biology limited to the carbon-based chemical systems of life as we know it or can other chemical systems support other biologies? Is there a general theory of evolution that extends to all matter? These are fantastically interesting questions fundamental to our understanding of life itself. This lecture will explore answers to these questions - by looking to the future rather than by looking to the past. Invoking the concept of 'adaptive matter' composed of evolvable chemical systems and materials the lecture will address the fundamental question of biology: "What is the minimal chemical system that can undergo Darwinian evolution?" It will do so not only conceptually but empirically. It will discuss how chemists can attempt to create new types of biology, truly synthetic life. In particular, it will describe experiments to create inorganic biology: living systems that do not use proteins, DNA or sugars. The lecture will describe the chemistry, materials, and novel reactor arrays now being used to carry out these experiments. including a network reactor array the speaker constructed in his Glasgow laboratory that, he hopes, will enable his research group to create autonomous chemical entities capable of replication and adaptive behavior.