Prof. Dr. Eörs Szathmáry  Projects


Mechanisms and functions of neuronal replication

Evere since William James (1890) the idea has been around that processes of thinking and problem solving are analogous to evolution by natural selection. This thought has penetrated pilosophy and has triggered valuable research in neuroscience. A limitation of the previous neurobiological approaches has been that they deal with selectionist systems only, namely no mechanisms of replication have been presented, without which the origin of true novelties and cumulative adaptations (adaptations built on a set of previously fixed adaptations) cannot be accounted for. We seek to present realistic candidate mechanisms of neuronal replication and explore its applicability in modelling complex thought, includinng insight problems. 

Fernando C, Karishma KK, Szathmáry E (2008) Copying and Evolution of Neuronal Topology. PLoS ONE 3(11): e3775. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0003775


Systems chemistry and the evolutionary origin of cells

Systems chemistry is the emerging field of the analysis and synthesis of coupled autocatalytic chemical systems of various kinds. The chemoton model of Gánti posits that minimal life can be characterized by a triple coupling of metabolism, template replication and boundary, where each system is autocatalytic and the reproducing supersystem is also autocatalytic. We focus on the origin and dynamics of the genertic material and the metabolic network is such systems. Special attention is being paid to the evolutionary origin of self-reference, including the genetic code. 

Szathmáry, E (2005) Life: in search of the simplest cell. Nature 433, 469-470.

Fernando, C., Santos, M. & Szathmáry, E. (2005) Evolutionary potential and requirements for minimal protocells. Top. Curr. Chem. 259, 167-211. 

Kun, Á., Santos, M. & Szathmáry, E (2005) Real ribozymes suggest a relaxed error threshold. Nat. Genet. 37, 1008-1011.

Szathmáry, E (2007) Coevolution of metabolic networks and membranes: the scenario of progressive sequestration. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B. Biol. Sci. 362, 1781-1787.

Fernando, C., Von Kiedrowski, G. & Szathmáry, E. (2007) A Stochastic Model of Nonenzymatic Nucleic Acid Replication: "Elongators" Sequester Replicators. J Mol. Evol. 64, 572-585.

Könnyű, B., Czárán, T. & Szathmáry, E. (2008) Prebiotic replicase evolution in a surface-bound metabolic system: parasites as a source of adaptive evolution. BMC Evol. Biol. 8, 267.

Kun, Á., Papp, B. & Szathmáry, E. (2008) Computational identification of obligatorily autocatalytic replicators embedded in metabolic networks. Genome Biol. 9:R51 (doi:10.1186/gb-2008-9-3-r51)

Kun, Á., Pongor, S., Jordán, F. & Szathmáry, E. (2008) Catalytic Propensity of Amino Acids and the Origins of the Genetic Code and Proteins. In. M. Barbieri (ed.) Codes of Life, Springer-Verlag, pp. 39-58. 


e-Flux: Evolutionary microfluidix (EU STREP project)

Ever since the insightful suggestion of John von Neumann, self-reproducing automata are considered to be a main long-term goal of IT. Biologists are dealing with such systems that arose in the course of evolution by natural selection. The future realization of technological artefacts that will mimic, or be inspired by biological automata, will face many problems that biological evolution had to solve. e-Flux will develop droplet-based digital microfluidic systems for the manipulation of reproducing artificial compartments and natural cells (including the analysis of adaptive pathways and molecular cooperation). The project combines cutting-edge technological development with high-level theoretical analysis of the experimentally realized systems. By the application of a large population of electronically controlled microdroplets we shall select for RNA replicator-based molecular networks that can learn from experience. The same method will be used to reconstruct a hypothetical interim stage of early biological evolution where protocells harboured a bag of competing catalytically active RNA genes. These achievements need technological development of our microfluidic machinery. As an example of unconventional biotechnology, we will put bacteria into the droplets, and select for various traits in a novel kind of ‘evolution machine’. Theoretical analyses will complement the experimental work, especially in order to develop a better understanding of evolvability (the genetically controlled capacity to respond to directional selection) in artificial and natural molecular systems.s.

-> See e-Flux-Webpage