Université de Strasbourg

Claudia Bonfio

Biography - Claudia Bonfio

Institute of Supramolecular Science and Engineering (ISIS), University of Strasbourg and CNRS, France

Claudia Bonfio, USIAS Fellow 2022

Claudia Bonfio is a Junior Group Leader at the Institute of Supramolecular Science and Engineering (ISIS) in Strasbourg, France. She studied in Italy, and obtained her BSc degree in chemistry at the University of Siena (supervisor: Professor S. Mangani), her MSc degree in chemistry at the University of Padua (supervisor: Professor D. Fregona) and her PhD in biomolecular sciences at the University of Trento (supervisor: Professor S. Mansy). As a PhD student, she focused on the synthesis and activity of primitive catalysts on early Earth. During her PhD, she spent research periods abroad as visiting PhD student in the Department of Astronomy at Harvard University (Cambridge, MA, USA) and in the Department of Molecular Biology at Massachusetts General Hospital (Boston, MA, USA) where she worked on the astrochemistry taking place on the early Earth (supervisor: Professor D. Sasselov) and the emergence of primordial cells (supervisor: Nobel Laureate Professor J. Szostak). After her PhD, she moved to the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge (UK) as a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) Fellow and then to the Department of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge as an 1851 Research Fellow, where she tackled fundamental questions related to the emergence of functional primitive cells.

Currently, her group focuses on prebiotic supramolecular chemistry, in particular on interactions between supramolecular structures and biomolecules. Her main scientific goal is to uncover the chemical principles that lead to primitive cells with essential life-like behaviours, by probing the interplay between primitive membranes and functional biomolecules.

Project - Multiple cycles of chemically-driven RNA ligation within synthetic protocells

01/09/2022 – 31/08/2025

The non-enzymatic replication of RNA is thought to have been critical for the emergence of Darwinian evolution and thus cellular life. One unsolved difficulty with non-enzymatic RNA replication is that template-directed copying of RNA results in a stable double-stranded product. In fact, after strand separation upon heating, rapid strand reannealing during cooling outcompetes slow non-enzymatic template copying, which renders multiple rounds of RNA replication impossible.

The goal of this project is to overcome the strand reannealing issue through the development of a protocell-based method to favour multiple cycling of in situ chemical RNA replication. Our multidisciplinary approach combines the strength of bioorganic and biophysical chemistry to optimise prebiotic compartments, with the power of in situ non-enzymatic RNA (bio)chemistry. This proposal aims at highlighting a strong advantageous relationship between prebiotic compartments and RNA replication in the context of systems chemistry, inferring the fundamental role of primordial consortia of protocells based on trade and content reshuffling.

A deeper understanding of the mechanisms of RNA replication and lipid self-assembly will provide fundamental advances in the field of origin of life, bringing us one step closer to emulating the first primitive cells that were able to grow, divide and evolve under early Earth conditions. Moreover, this project would provide clues on the chemical settings needed for life on other planets, as well as new insights on artificial cells and their tunable properties, benefiting bioengineering, colloid chemistry and drug delivery research.

Biography PhD student - Yuhan Li

Institute of Supramolecular Science and Engineering (ISIS), University of Strasbourg and CNRS, France

Yuhan Li

Yuhan Li received her BSc in chemistry at the China Agricultural University (China) in 2020. She subsequently obtained an MRes degree in nanomaterials in 2021 at Imperial College London (United Kingdom), working for one year as an intern under the supervision of Dr. Nick Brooks, Professor Marina Kuimova and Dr. Lorenzo Di Michele. During her internship, she worked on a project related to DNA nanotechnology and artificial cells. In particular, she successfully designed a hexagon-shaped DNA nanostructure, which can coat on the surface of artificial liposomes. She also measured the influence of the nanostructure on the properties of the artificial cell membrane using molecular rotors. This project sparked in her a deep interest in artificial cells and membrane biophysics.

In 2022, Yuhan Li started her PhD project at ISIS under the supervision of Dr. Claudia Bonfio. Since joining the “Protocell Lab”, she has learned about prebiotic chemistry and the composition and properties of primitive cells.

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