Nick Lane (London University College, Evolutionary Biochemistry)

Thursday June 27 2019 at 16h

Leiden University, Gorlaeus Laboratories, Bètawetenschappen LUMY 04.28,  Einsteinweg 55 2333 CC Leiden
Drinks after the lecture


Cells need a continuous flow of energy and matter to grow. All life on Earth uses the unanticipated mechanism of electrochemical charges across membranes to generate ATP and to fix CO2. The protein machinery required to generate and harness this charge is extremely sophisticated, raising the question of how such a universally conserved process arose in early cells. I will use the mechanism of CO2 fixation in methanogens as a guide to the possible prebiotic origins of growth and intermediary metabolism. I will show that equivalent electrochemical gradients are found across inorganic pores in alkaline hydrothermal vents, and that proton flux may have driven the difficult reaction between H2 and CO2 to form organic matter and ultimately the first cells.


Nick Lane is professor of Evolutionary Biochemistry in the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London. His research focuses on how energy flow constrains evolution from the origin of life to the traits of complex multicellular organisms. He is a co-director of the new Centre for Life’s Origins and Evolution (CLOE) at UCL, and author of four celebrated books on life’s origin and evolution (his most recent book, 2015: The Vital Question: Why is Life the Way it is? – Energy, Evolution and the Origins of Complex Life). His work has been recognized by the Biochemical Society Award in 2015 and the Royal Society Michael Faraday Prize in 2016.

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We just received the news that Marc de Jonge suddenly passed away. A senior policy adviser with the Dutch Science Organisation NWO, Marc has been instrumental in setting the scene for the Origins Center. From the definition of the ‘Routes’ – main research subjects connecting disciplines, institutes, researchers, and the public at large – within the Dutch Research Agenda onward, he was the person that, thanks to his vast knowledge of the scientific landscape in the Netherlands, connected the life sciences to the geosciences, chemistry, biophysics, astronomy, and computer sciences and mathematics into what we now call the Origins Center. Marc stimulated participation in workshops and knew the way to the NWO funding schemes for connecting scientists. Marc was stimulating and supportive, with a keen eye for pitfalls (and how to avoid these) and always with a touch of humour. After a year of absence he was recently connected again to Science Agenda’s Route 15 on the Origins of Life, and we looked forward to a renewed collaboration. Unfortunately his untimely death prevents this. We will surely miss Marc.

On behalf of the Origins Center,

Inge Loes ten Kate
Frank Helmich
Rens Waters
Jan-Willem Mantel

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The European Union has awarded a COFUND grant to a consortium of researchers from the universities of Groningen, Leiden and Eindhoven for a collective fellowship programme called ‘oLife’. The 6 M€ programme, which is co-financed by the participating universities, will recruit and train 18 post-doctoral fellows to conduct world-leading research on the origin and nature of life and its distribution in the universe. The Call for Proposals has opened on April 1st, 2019.

Interdisciplinary research on the origin and evolution of life

The origin and nature of life, and its distribution in the universe, are fundamental questions for humanity. Key questions revolve for instance around the formation of biomolecules, the emergence of life on planetary surfaces, the evolution of cellular functions, extra-terrestrial life and how life will cope with human-induced challenges. Within the oLife Fellowship Programme, the three-year postdocs will conduct interdisciplinary research with the aim to break new grounds in four scientific areas: (i) Planetary preconditions and boundary conditions of Life, and its origins here on Earth, (ii) Defining properties and synthesis of Life, from the molecular to the biosphere level, (iii) Modelling, predicting and steering of Life, (iv) Distribution of Life across the universe.

More than research

Next to their interdisciplinary research project, the 18 post-docs will follow a joint research and training programme, consisting of scientific lectures, academic and professional skills training, career guidance, and teaching and supervision of students. In addition, they will have the opportunity to go on secondments with leading industrial, academic and non-profit partner organisations of the oLife Fellowship Programme. The aim is to equip and prepare the post-docs for their further career, both within and outside academia.

Opportunity to work with prominent scientists

Within oLife, candidates may freely choose from a pool of 18 advisors and freely propose their research topic. This gives them the opportunity to work directly with top-level academics who have won prestigious prizes and grants, such as the Nobel Prize, ERC Advanced Grants and NWO TOP grants.

Embedding in the National Science Agenda

The oLife Fellowship Programme is funded by the European Union and the participating universities and research institutes. In addition, the programme collaborates closely with the Dutch national Origins Center (, which is funded through the Dutch National Science Agenda (

Call for Proposals is now open

Interested researchers are encouraged to apply for the Call of Proposals, which is now open until May 12, 2019. Candidates are requested to first submit a Preliminary Proposal. Eligible and successful candidates will be invited to submit a Full Proposal.

Participating research institutes and coordination

The oLife Fellowship Programme is a joint initiative by seven world-leading research institutes: TU/e Institute for Complex Molecular Systems, Groningen Biomolecular Sciences & Biotechnology Institute (GBB), Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences (GELIFES), Kapteyn Astronomical Institute, Leiden Institute of Chemistry, Stratingh Institute for Chemistry and Zernike Institute for Advanced Materials (ZIAM).

The scientific coordinators of the programme are prof. dr. Wouter Roos (ZIAM) and prof. dr. Floris van der Tak (SRON/Kapteyn). The programme manager is Ms. Vanessa van Hest (ZIAM).

More information

For more detailed information about the research, the involved research institutes, prospective advisors and the training programme, please visit the website:

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Celebrating Michael Russell’s 80th birthday, together with 30 years of the submarine alkaline vent theory for the origin of life, and being the first scientific meeting of the European COST network on chemobrionics, the meeting will be of interest of scientists working on the origins of life and, more broadly, understanding and controlling physical, chemical, and biological properties of self-organized precipitation processes.

The meeting will take place from March 11 to Mar 13, 2019, in Granada, Spain. Anticipated speakers include:

  • Michael J. Russell (NASA JPL, Los Angeles): Prospecting for Life
  • Patrick Beckett (UC Davis): Thermodynamic fluctuations and information processing at the nano-scale in an ancient, alkaline vent environment
  • Eloi Camprubi (Origins Center, Utrecht): Vectorial prebiotic chemistry
  • Silvana Cardoso (Cambridge University): Fluid mechanics at the origin of life
  • Grayson Chadwick (Caltech, Los Angeles): Methanotrophy
  • Nick Lane (UCL, London): TBA
  • Yamei Li (ELSI, Tokyo): The role of metal sulfide minerals in the prebiotic catalysis for origin of life
  • Bill Martin (Institute of Molecular Evolution, Düsseldorf): Native metals and carbon chemistry at vents
  • Shawn McGlynn (ELSI, Tokyo): Oxidative thio-esterification
  • Ryuhei Nakamura (RIKEN, Saitama): Electrochemistry at deep-sea hydrothermal vents for autotrophic origin of life
  • Wolfgang Nitschke (CNRS, Paris): Can the mineral Fougerite mediate the step from strictly exergonic chemistry to a free energy converting precursor of bioenergetics?
  • Ignacio Sainz (CSIC IACT Granada): Chemical gardens and alkaline hydrothermal vents
  • Victor Sojo (Institute for Advanced Studies, Berlin): A few lessons learned trying to fix CO2 in alkaline vent conditions

There are no registration fees for the meeting. COST funding ( will support some 60 attendees from Europe. We anticipate approximately 100 attendees.

If you would like to join us please pre-register, and tell us whether you would like to present some work, at

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The NWO-CWI Center for Mathematics and Informatics, Amsterdam, will host a symposium on machine learning in heliophysics, on 16 – 20 September 2019 in Amsterdam. Brief indications of the programme and venue, and a Registration of Interest form, can be found here.

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The Origins Center, in which Dutch scientists work together to answer questions submitted to the National Science Agenda about the origin of the Universe and life, had its formal kick-off during the Fundamentals of Life in de Universe symposium. Two days of challenging presentations and stimulating discussions whetted the appetite for a research program that crosses disciplines and both temporal and spatial scales on an unprecedented level.

Impressions of the symposium and kick-off

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We organize a two-day symposium “Fundamentals of Life in the Universe”, covering a wide spectrum of topics, from planetary evolution to the fabrication of synthetic cells. The topics of the meeting are:
1. The origin of the earth and of life
2. Predicting the evolution of life
3. Building and directing life from molecule to biosphere
4. Life in extraterrestrial environments
5. Emergence and bridging of temporal and spatial scales
Besides invited talks, the conference includes a keynote lecture by Ben Feringa (2016 Nobel laureate in chemistry) and a public lecture by Charley Lineweaver.
We expect 150-200 participants from the fields of chemistry, geosciences, biology, astronomy, and physics. Participants will be able to present their own research in the form of posters in a dedicated session. The program also includes opportunities for cross-disciplinary networking.

See more details on our symposium page

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On 31 August and 1 September 2017, the Energy Academy on the campus of the University of Groningen was the scene of a two-day symposium on the fundamentals of life in universe. With a number of world-class speakers this symposium fully covered the subjects in purview of the Origins Center.  In the afternoon of 31 August the start of the Origins Center was celebrated.

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On 7 July 2017 the Executive Board of NWO, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, decided to provide funding for the first phase in the Origins Center’s research programme. In this phase, a number of pathfinder projects will be executed that should lay the groundwork for a long-term, collaborative effort to attain the five game changers. Thanks to the funding decision, a first-phase community building and outreach programme can also be initiated. We will reach out to those who submitted, back in 2015, questions within the National Science Agenda, as we will do to others who similarly wonder at life occurring in the universe. In addition to the Origins Center, NWO funded seven other initiatives responding to the National Science Agenda.

We will soon announce six vacancies for postdoctoral research fellow positions for the pathfinder projects.

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In April, five 1-day workshops will be organised to introduce each of the five gamechangers:

  •   5 April 2017:  Finding extraterrestrial life
  • 11 April 2017: Bridging long temporal and spatial scales
  • 12 April 2017: Predicting evolution
  • 13 April 2017: Origin and co-evolution of earth-like planets and life
  • 21 April 2017: Building and directing life from molecule to biosphere
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