Biohybrid Materials and Protocell Research

Departamento de Química Orgánica (UAM)

Study of replicating protocellular membrane models based on novel synthetic nucleolipids

Dr. de la Escosura belongs to the Organic Chemistry Department at Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (UAM), and leads the research group of Biohybrid Materials and Systems Chemistry. The group is concerned with the design and synthesis of new supramolecular and nanostructured hybrids from synthetic and biological components, and the study of their complex biological functions. After finding useful properties of protein capsids as nanoreactors and nanocontainers to incorporate different kinds of materials, we are currently working in areas that include biomedical applications and protocell research.

One of our main long-term research goals is to develop synthetic chemical systems with emergent life-like properties (e.g., replication, adaptation, etc.) and integrated catalytic/metabolic mechanisms that produce the systems´ components. The resulting complex chemical networks will represent ‘simple’ models of protocells as efficient and self-sustaining autonomous functional systems.

The present TFM will be focused on this research line. In particular, preliminary work in our group has shown that nucleolipids composed of two adenine or thymine units, connected to an oleyl chain through the non-natural amino acid diaminopropionic acid, self-assemble into different nano-/microstructures in aqueous media, depending on the nucleobase they bear (micelles/vesicles for adenine; rod-like aggregates for thymine; and tubular nanostructures for mixtures of both nucleolipids). We then plan to study now their potential to give physical autocatalytic processes for which base-pairing complementarity determines the products and assemblies that are amplified. Physical autocatalysis in these systems will be based on the acceleration of thioester/thiol exchange reactions between nucleobase-containing thioester precursors (with a good thiol leaving group) and a long chain thiol (e.g., oleyl thiol). The characterization of this kind of processes will be carried out by a number of techniques, including high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), coupled to mass spectrometry (HPLC-MS), UV-Vis absorption and fluorescence spectroscopies, dynamic light scattering (DLS), and transmission electron microscopy (TEM), among others. This TFM will therefore represent a great opportunity to learn and get specialized in an interdisciplinary area of research, at the interface between chemistry, biology and materials science. The student will get deep insight into techniques that are useful in both biology and chemistry, which should certainly open good perspectives for his/her future career. 

Andrés de la Escosura Navazo