The emergence of life is one of the most fascinating and yet largely unsolved questions in the natural sciences, and thus a significant challenge for scientists from many disciplines. There is growing evidence that ribonucleic acid (RNA) polymers, which are capable of genetic information storage and self-catalysis, were involved in the early forms of life. But despite recent progress, RNA synthesis without biological machineries is very challenging. My current research aims at understanding how to synthesize RNA in abiotic conditions, in particular by addressing three critical issues that we are tryng to solve and to rationalize at a molecular level: (i) accumulation of precursors, (ii) formation of a chemical bond between RNA monomers, and (iii) tolerance for alternative backbone sugars or linkages. Because we are focussing on problems ranging from the formation of chemical bonds up to the stability of large biopolymers, we use a computational multi-scale approach combining techniques that range from quantum calculations to large-scale all-atom simulations, employed together with efficient enhanced-sampling algorithms, forcefield improvement, cutting-edge analysis methods and model development.
This project has received funding from the European Research Council for the period February 2018 - February 2023 (ERC Starting Grant 757111), which will allow to invest in a dedicated and massive computer cluster, as well as providing funding for graduate students and post-docs. Interested candidates are invited to consult the Open positions page.