INPhINIT 2020 Incoming Fellowship: "Origin of Biological Homochirality: insights from non-equilibrium thermodynamics and entropy production."

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The Doctoral INPhINIT Incoming fellowship offers 3-year contracts for early-stage researchers of any nationality to carry out a PhD project in research centres accredited with the Spanish Seal of Excellence Severo Ochoa, María de Maeztu or Health Institute Carlos III, on STEM disciplines. Centro de Astrobiología (CSIC-INTA), Unidad de Excelencia “María de Maeztu”, offers the following PhD position: The origin of life is one of the unanswered big questions of contemporary science and is a consequence of chemical cosmological evolution. This project follows a multidisciplinary approach and focusses on the natural phenomena of chemical evolution, to elucidate the emergence of biological homochirality: the fact that all known biopolymers are made up from L-amino acids and D-sugars (i.e., molecules employing exclusively either the left- (L) or right-handed (D) enantiomer, in the sense of mirror images). The origin of this biomolecular handedness, or life’s homochirality, remains to be explained. It involves a spontaneous symmetry breaking, at the molecular level, of a spatial symmetry known as parity. Within the general framework of the origins-of-life problem, the understanding of how this single chirality or handedness emerged on Earth, in the course of molecular evolution leading from simple organic compounds to the complex, self-organized, dynamic and energy-consuming chemical reaction network characterizes even the most simple form of a living system, is a necessary prerequisite for any scientifically sound proposal. The chirality question requires an understanding of the non-equilibrium thermodynamics conditions that can lead to mirror symmetry breaking. This project therefore places a strong emphasis on the entropic changes and entropy exchanges with the environment that take place when this symmetry is broken in out-of -equilibrium chemical reaction networks. The project’s aim is to generate knowledge, from a theoretical and multidisciplinary approach (physics, chemistry, physical chemistry, astrochemistry), to key issues related to the emergence, amplification and transfer of molecular chirality (handedness) in chemical systems, with the aim of proposing and/or assessing plausible chemical models for the emergence of biological homochirality. For a recent summary and review, see J. R. Soc. Interface 2017, 14, 20170699; dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsif.2017.0699 Contact: Dr. David Hochberg. E-mail: hochbergd@cab.inta-csic.es