In the Netherlands, about 300 scientists are engaged in research into life and evolution every day. They dream of new discoveries, both big and small. The Origins Center connects these researchers in Knowledge Networks.
Origin and co-evolution of earth-like planets and life
The Earth is currently the only place where life is known to exist. Wouldn't it be great if we found other planets on which life exists? Techniques are available to answer that question over the next decades.
I am interested in rocky planet formation and early evolution. In the context of the Origins Centre I would like to learn more about the geological context for origin of life by studying the interplay between the chemistry and dynamics of proto-planetary disks and the interior structure, surface and atmospheric properties of rocky exoplanets.
Aardwetenschappen, planetary science
Predicting evolution of life
Thanks to evolution, the great diversity of life came into being. If we could predict or control the course of evolution, we would be able to solve major social problems. Preventing bee extinction, for example; or tackling resistant bacteria; and we may even reverse environmental pollution.
As pioneers of the emerging field of evolutionary cell biophysics, we aim to understand how the building blocks of a cell constrain and facilitate evolution of cellular functions. The function we focus on is symmetry breaking in budding yeast. We do experimental evolution, quantitative cell biology and modeling in live cells in combination with minimal in vitro systems to understand the molecular mechanisms of adaptive mutations and to predict fitness, both with bottom-up (biophysics) and top-down (statistical) approaches.
cell biophysics, predicting evolution, minimal synthetic systems
Building and repairing life - from molecule to ecosystem
Living organisms are constantly interacting with their environment. This happens at the scale of (bio)molecules to cells and from animals and plants to complete ecosystems. Researchers want to know exactly how life functions. If that insight improves, we can repair broken life, treat (genetic) diseases and rebuild lost ecosystems.
Our long-term aim is to make life de-novo. We are working on the integration of self-replication with metabolism and compartmentalization while operating the system far from equilibrium (in a replication-destruction regime) allowing it to undergo Darwinian evolution. Through these efforts a plausible path to a completely synthetic form of life is starting to be unveiled.
chemistry, systems chemistry, origins of life, synthesis of life
Finding extraterrestrial life
If we can say that life exists outside of the Earth, it changes our view of humanity's role in the Universe. Is the Earth really unique as the cradle of life? Technological developments will enable researchers to find the answer in the coming decades
Search for habitability of icy moons in our Solar System and around exoplanets
Planetary Sciences and Exploration, Geodynamics
Bridging long temporal and spatial scales
Research into the origins and evolution of life requires a great deal of imagination from scientists. They have to make comparisons between situations that are billions of years apart. They also must relate molecular processes to entire ecosystems. This requires detailed computer models that can make these leaps in time and scale easy to handle.
I am interested in the origins of multicellular life. How did single cells decide to collaborate in multicellular structures? How did task division originate, such as the cell differentiation into neurons, muscle cells, blood vessel cells, and so forth? How is it possible that somitic cells give up their own chance to contribute to the next generation in favour of a small number of germ cells? And why do somitic cells not attempt to escape their supporting role more often, such as in cancer? We address these questions using mathematical and computational modeling.
Prior to the emergence of life, chemistry was likely producing both left- and right-hand versions of hydrocarbons in equal proportions. These molecules are called chiral molecules. In contrast, life has emerged from only one of the two versions of these chiral molecules. This preference for one handedness has become a fingerprint of living systems, from molecules to plants and animals. It has fascinated scientists from Darwin's time into the 21st century.
Swimming cells follow helical trajectories - including bacteria, zooplankton, sperm cells, ciliates and protozoa. We use minimal models of swimming cells to research the rules that govern their motile behavior in water. One of our conclusions is that the operation of artificial molecular machines can steer this helical motion in specific directions.
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