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Self-Reproducing Molecular Systems

The emergence of molecular organization,
adaptation, and aquisition of
new functions in autocatalytic peptide networks

M. Reza Ghadiri*

Departments of Chemistry and Molecular Biology
and the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology,
The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California

This is an abstract for a talk to be given at the
Fifth Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology.
There will be a link from here to the full article when it is available on the web.


Nanochemistry for the Making of Molecular Ecosystems.

What are the fundamental properties that distinguish the chemistry of living systems, which gives rise to animate characteristics, from inanimate in vitro chemical transformations? Recent advances in the mathematical understanding of complex nonlinear systems, chemistry, molecular biology, and analytical sciences are conspiring to allow a new, broad, and unique attack on the fundamental understanding of living processes. The approach that we have undertaken in our laboratory is founded on the following premises. Living systems are viewed as autonomous self-reproducing entities that operate based on "information". Information is originated at the molecular level by covalent chemistry, transferred and processed through noncovalent chemistry, expanded in complexity at the system level, and ultimately changed through reproduction and natural selection. In a living system, the complex blend of nonlinear molecular information-transfer processes is thought to bring about a coherent self-organized chemical systemˇa collective of interacting and interdependent molecular species, a "molecular ecosystem"ˇ that as a whole can display emergent properties far greater than the simple sum of its chemical constituents. Therefore, in order to understand and ultimately mimic the properties of living systems, we feel it is necessary to begin defining the basic forms of self-organized autocatalytic chemical networks, how they can be constructed, and how the interplay of information and nonlinear catalysis can lead to the expression of emergent properties. In this lecture, within the context of de novo designed catalytic and autocatalytic peptides, we will discuss the construction of simple self-organized autocatalytic networks that begin to display some of the most basic properties of living molecular systems such as selection, adaptation, and the acquisition of new functions.

*Corresponding Address:
M. Reza Ghadiri, Departments of Chemistry and Molecular Biology and the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology, The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California, email:


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