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Experimental and Theoretical Studies of the Origin of Life on the Earth

Project Description

Formation of the very first oligonucleotide sequences is one of the greatest mysteries surrounding life’s origin on our planet. In the last few years experimental and theoretical methods have been more and more frequently used to aid at unraveling those simple chemical transformations which could give rise to the emergence of functional biomolecules from an inanimate matter. This PhD project will focus either on experimental or theoretical studies related to the understanding and experimental modeling of the abiogenesis of RNA. Presently, we are involved in studies related for example to the complete experimental reconstruction of a formamide-based pathway to the origin of life, non-templated synthesis of the first RNAs from cyclic nucleotides, origin of the catalytic activity of RNA, the role of extraterrestrial impacts in the synthesis of the building blocks of the first biopolymers and studies of chemical processes in exoplanetary contexts. The exact topic will be specified based on discussion with the applicant and her/his scientific interests and capabilities, and can be purely experimental, purely theoretical or the combination of both. In case of theoretical research, it will be based on the application of modern quantum chemistry and molecular dynamics simulations for specific problems closely related to experimental studies pursued in our laboratory or at our cooperating partners. The research will be carried out using state-of-the-art computational and experimental facilities available in house or in the laboratories of our collaborators. Currently available specific themes include for example understanding of (i) the chemical processes leading to the formation and accumulation of formamide, a plausible feedstock molecule for the emergence of life, (ii) chemical mechanisms of the prebiotic synthesis of nucleotides, with a special emphasis on the formamide-based pathway, (iii) the geological context of nonenzymatic template-free oligomerizations, as well as (iv) the emergence of the catalytic activity of short oligonucleotide sequences. The dissertation is suitable for students who are interested in application of modern QM methods and have a feeling for chemical reactions as well as for those who are interested in combining synthetic organic chemistry, biochemistry and analytical chemistry with the aim to reconstruct abiogenesis under laboratory conditions. Theoretical studies in the topic involve mainly mechanistic investigations, and will be executed using state-of-the-art quantum-chemical (QM) techniques, QM molecular dynamics or classical MD simulations. Experimental work will initially concentrate on sample preparation for diverse experiments and characterization with modern analytical chemistry methods. Because it is a very difficult topic, specific research goal can be proposed only after careful assessment of the capabilities of the applicant. We closely collaborate with other experimental and theoretical laboratories, e.g. E. Di Mauro, R. Saladino, M. Ferus, D. Braun and some others.

Keywords: oligonucleotide sequences, quantum chemistry and molecular dynamics simulations, laboratory simulations, prebiotic synthesis, origin of life, abiogenesis of RNA, catalytic activity of RNA
HOW TO APPLY: Register for this call using the registration form at and submit required documents to receive support with the preparation of the application and all formalities. Your application package will be forwarded to the supervisor for preliminary revision.
Applicants who wish to pursue a degree at the CEITEC PhD program must hold the equivalent of a Master’s degree (MSc) in a similar field (four- or five-year undergraduate degree). The application can be submitted before obtaining the Master’s degree; however, the applicant should obtain a degree within five months after the application deadline.

Funding Notes

Admission for studies, student registration for the full-time study program, and proper fulfillment of student duties constitute the student’s right to a regular income of 22 000 CZK (850 EUR). Information is available at View Website

Living costs and other practicalities available at View Website

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