Chemistry, Life and Evolution

Beilstein Bozen Symposium

30 May – ­­­3 June 2016
Yachthotel Chiemsee, Prien (Chiemsee), Germany


Scientific Committee:

Lee Cronin / University of Glasgow, UK

Martin G. Hicks, Carsten Kettner / Beilstein-Institut

David A. Winkler / CSIRO Manufacturing, Clayton, Australia


Please find the list of the confirmed speakers below.

Aspects covered by this conference

  • From abiological environments to synthetic life

  • How much chemistry is required to launch a living minimal system or how to evolve non-biological materials towards biological desirable properties?

  • Mimicking biological functions and properties with means from the chemist’s kitchen

  • Evolution of diversity (chirality, promiscuity, autocatalysis, self-organization, regulation and control)

  • Epigenetics as non-coding elements to drive and regulate development




Lee Cronin / University of Glasgow, UK


David A. Winkler / CSIRO Manufacturing Flagship, Clayton, Australia




The symposium brought together a diverse and eminent group of chemists, physicists, informaticians, and biologists to focus on the broad overlap between chemistry, life, and evolution – as well as debate the nature of the living state and the evolution of chemical pathways leading to molecular complexity. There were approximately fifty participants form Europe, the US and Oceania. The topics discussed during the workshop spanned the ancient origins of life and the role of in vivo evolution; contemporary synthetic life, protein design and in vitro evolution; and in silico simulation of evolutionary processes and biological neural networks and their application to the future of life.  

The first two days were almost exclusively dedicated to discussions on prebiotic life; the types of chemistry that could lead to replication, self-assembling and far from equilibrium processes, information storage, compartmentalization and information flows. The opening invited lecture was presented by Prof. George Whitesides from Harvard University. The central role of environment was also discussed at length and fascinating presentations described the formation of complex organic molecules in deep hydrothermal vents and pools; pathways from simple molecules to proteins and nucleotides; directed evolution, organic and inorganic systems, autocatalytic systems; and the influence and origin of chirality.

The move from prebiotic plausibility to simplicity was introduced and widely discussed as a potential new avenue that might allow the field to unify behind a common set of experimental goals. There were also very interesting presentations on how to evolve chemistry using greatly expanded versions of the classic Miller-Urey origins of life experiment, and robotic methods of evolving chemical reactions, as well as expanding the genetic basis of biology from four to six base pairs.

The final day focused more strongly on contemporary research into protein and enzyme evolution, the role of metals in templating of reactions, the origin of metalloproteins, very accurate simulations of G-protein coupled receptors, a major class of drug targets, and the exploitation of computational analogies of Darwinian evolution and biological learning and adaptation to the design of new molecules and materials.  The meeting was thought provoking since several participants from a range of fields suggested that a paradigm shift needed to result if progress towards understanding life as a process, as well as detailed chemistry, would lead to new insights into the emergence of biology. Such insights are crucial in understanding how ‘easy’ life is, the possibility of alien life locally or in the Universe as a whole, and the future for the chemistry of biology.


Steven Benner / The Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution, Alachua, USA
Constraining Chemical Models for the Origin of Darwinism

Donna Blackmond / The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, USA
Chirality and Prebiotic Chemistry

Dieter Braun / Ludwig-Maximilians Universität München, Germany
Replication towards Complexity with Thermal Gradients

Timothy Clark / Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany
G-Protein Coupled Receptors: Answers from Simulations

Shelley Copley / University of Colorado, Boulder, USA
The Evolutionary Potential of Promiscuous Enzyme Activities

Lee Cronin / University of Glasgow, UK
The Quest for Self-Programming ‘Evolvable’ Chemistry

Antoine Danchin / Institut ICAN, Paris, France
A Universal Class of Innocuous Chasses for Synthetic Biology

David W. Deamer / University of California, Santa Cruz, USA
A New Model for the Origin of Cellular Life: Coupled Phases and Combinatorial Selection in Hydrothermal Pools

Donald Hilvert / ETH Zürich, Switzerland
Nearer to Nature: Design and Optimization of Artificial Enzymes

Wilhelm T.S. Huck / Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Synthesis of Out-of-equilibrium Oscillating Chemical Reaction Networks: Towards Living materials


Terry Kee / University of Leeds, UK
Towards Convergent and Cooperative Abiogenic Processes

Stephen Mann / University of Bristol, UK
Towards Synthetic Cellularity via Protocell Design and Construction

Sheref S. Mansy / University of Trento
The Potential Role of Metallopeptides in the Origins of Life

William F. Martin / Heinrich-Heine Universität, Düsseldorf, Germany
Hydrothermal Vents and the Origin of Life (Real Microbes)

Sijbren Otto / University of Groningen, The Netherlands
Systems Chemistry: Towards Darwinian Evolution of Self-Replicating Molecules

Robert Pascal / Université Montpellier-2, France
Why and How Kinetics, Thermodynamics, and Chemistry can Combine to Trigger the Logic of Biological Evolution

Matthew W. Powner / University College London, UK
Chemical Selection of Proteogenic Amino Acid and Canonical Nucleotides

Kepa Ruiz-Mirazo / Universidad del Pais Vasco, San Sebastian, Spain
Major Prebiotic Transitions as Stages of Protocellular Development

George Whitesides / Harvard University, Cambridge, USA
Early Processes: What Might Have Come Before the Beginning?

Dave A. Winkler / CSIRO Manufacturing, Clayton, Australia
Biomimetic Molecular Design Tools that Learn, Evolve, and Adapt

Conference Photo 2