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Life as a matter of function
jeudi 19 janvier 2023

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Compared to physics and chemistry, biology has always been lacking something like a simplified model system such as the hydrogen atom that would allow to formulate and scrutinise first principles and laws required for a fundamental understanding of the phenomenon of life. The reason is that biology’s study object is a moving target, as life ever since its origin on earth several billions of years ago has been complexifying through evolution, and although there is the conceptual agreement that the cell should be considered the basic unit of life, nothing is “basic” about this unit, the smallest representations of which still are incomprehensively complicated chemical reaction systems with more than thousands of genes alone. Our hypothesis is that if one ever wants to have in hands and under the microscope a truly minimal living system, one will have to build it from scratch. In contrast to origin-of-life research, however, we do not focus too strongly on the actual molecules nor aim to reproduce the plausible series of events that presumably led to the life we find on earth today. Instead, we understand life as an organisational form of matter that is primarily distinguished by a set of key functions, which can however be abstracted from their specific representatives in various organisms. In the past years, it has been our ambition to identify such a set of key functions for one of life’s most central features, self-division. Our experimental work focuses on the reconstitution of a dramatically reduced number of elements of the bacterial cell division system, which however appear to emerge basic features of division in protocell compartments. From our work so far that I will present in my talk, we feel encouraged to believe that the complex cellular division machineries may indeed be deduced to a very limited set of general functional elements, and that some of these rudimentary functions may even still be partly conserved in “modern”, highly specialised, proteins.

Conférence de Petra Schwille, biophysicienne, dans le cadre de l’édition 2023 de la Conférence Olivier Legrain Sciences et Société intitulée "Louis Pasteur à l’ENS : rencontre entre chimie et biologie"

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Petra Schwille
Institut Max Planck de biochimie

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Petra Schwille est biophysicienne et directrice du département de recherche Biophysique cellulaire et moléculaire de l'Institut Max-Planck de biochimie.

Elle est notamment connue pour son travail sur les modèles de membrane et a reçu le prix Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz en 2010.

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Dernière mise à jour : 10/03/2023