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Wednesday, September 11, 2019 at 4:00pm to 5:00pm
Clark Hall, 700
Steven Benner, Distinguished Fellow, The Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution
Host: John Brady
Building Darwinian Molecular Systems from the Atom Up
The feature of living systems that distinguishes them from nonliving systems is their ability to be reproduced, evolve, and adapt to changing environments. Thus, a large goal of biophysical chemistry seeks to create such systems, but on molecular platforms different from those used by the life that we know on Earth, whose chemistry reflects prebiotic contingency and natural history. This creates a "grand challenge" approach to biology, one that does not describe in increasingly greater detail the consequences of these contingent, constrained, and often "hacked" molecular systems. Rather, a well-constructed grand challenge forces us across uncharted terrain where we are forced to answer unscripted questions using available theory and technology. If these are inadequate, the challenge fails in a way that cannot be ignored, and that is instructive of what is missing in our theoretical and technological capabilities. This talk will describe the creation of artificial Darwinian systems and what we have learned in doing so. It will also describe their applications, in diagnostics and medicine, for materials sciences, and a platforms to evolve receptors, ligands and catalysys on demand by a laboratory version of natural selection. It will also describe how the science that emerged from the enterprise informs us about fundamental chemistry behind biology, including universal life detection that is being considered detect life on Enceladus, Mars, and elsewhere in the solar system.