Engineering the transition from non-living to living matter

Rodriguez Garcia, Marc (2016) Engineering the transition from non-living to living matter. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Full text available as:
[thumbnail of 2016RodriguezGarcia.pdf] PDF
Download (12MB)
Printed Thesis Information:


Re-creating and understanding the origin of life represents one of the major challenges facing the scientific community. We will never know exactly how life started on planet Earth, however, we can reconstruct the most likely chemical pathways that could have contributed to the formation of the first living systems. Traditionally, prebiotic chemistry has investigated the formation of modern life’s precursors and their self-organisation under very specific conditions thought to be ‘plausible’. So far, this approach has failed to produce a living system from the bottom-up.
In the work presented herein, two different approaches are employed to explore the transition from inanimate to living matter.
The development of microfluidic technology during the last decades has changed the way traditional chemical and biological experiments are performed. Microfluidics allows the handling of low volumes of reagents with very precise control. The use of micro-droplets generated within microfluidic devices is of particular interest to the field of Origins of Life and Artificial Life. Whilst many efforts have been made aiming to construct cell-like compartments from modern biological constituents, these are usually very difficult to handle. However, microdroplets can be easily generated and manipulated at kHz rates, making it suitable for high-throughput experimentation and analysis of compartmentalised chemical reactions. Therefore, we decided to develop a microfluidic device capable of manipulating microdroplets in such a way that they could be efficiently mixed, split and sorted within iterative cycles. Since no microfluidic technology had been developed before in the Cronin Group, the first chapter of this thesis describes the soft lithographic methods and techniques developed to fabricate microfluidic devices. Also, special attention is placed on the generation of water-in-oil microdroplets, and the subsequent modules required for the manipulation of the droplets such as: droplet fusers, splitters, sorters and single/multi-layer micromechanical valves.
Whilst the first part of this thesis describes the development of a microfluidic platform to assist chemical evolution, finding a compatible set of chemical building blocks capable of reacting to form complex molecules with endowed replicating or catalytic activity was challenging.
Abstract 10
Hence, the second part of this thesis focuses on potential chemistry that will ultimately possess the properties mentioned above. A special focus is placed on the formation of peptide bonds from unactivated amino acids, despite being one of the greatest challenges in prebiotic chemistry. As opposed to classic prebiotic experiments, in which a specific set of conditions is studied to fit a particular hypothesis, we took a different approach: we explored the effects of several parameters at once on a model polymerisation reaction, without constraints on hypotheses on the nature of optimum conditions or plausibility. This was facilitated by development of a new high-throughput automated platform, allowing the exploration of a much larger number of parameters. This led us to discover that peptide bond formation is less challenging than previously imagined. Having established the right set of conditions under which peptide bond formation was enhanced, we then explored the co-oligomerisation between different amino acids, aiming for the formation of heteropeptides with different structure or function. Finally, we studied the effect of various environmental conditions (rate of evaporation, presence of salts or minerals) in the final product distribution of our oligomeric products.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Origin of life, automation, peptides, microfluidics.
Subjects: Q Science > QD Chemistry
Colleges/Schools: College of Science and Engineering > School of Chemistry
Supervisor's Name: Cronin, Professor Leroy
Date of Award: 2016
Depositing User: Dr Marc Rodriguez Garcia
Unique ID: glathesis:2016-7605
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 04 Oct 2016 09:19
Last Modified: 27 Sep 2019 07:50

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year