The origins of Fe-S clusters

Contemporary biology is dependent upon the function of Fe-S clusters in electron transfer and catalysis. The prevalence of iron and sulfur on Earth, the ability of iron and sulfur to easily assemble into complexes, and the pervasiveness of Fe-S proteins across all Kingdoms of life has lead to the hypothesis that Fe-S complexes were among life’s first catalysts. Thus far, experimental research on the role of Fe-S clusters in the origins of life has focused on Fe-S containing minerals and specific geological settings rich in iron and sulfur, namely hydrothermal vents. However, hydrothermal vent conditions may not be well suited for many of the steps necessary for the emergence of life. We explore the potential of short peptide sequences to stabilize Fe-S clusters under prebiotically plausible conditions.

Artificial chemical systems that mimic cellular life

We probe the divide between living and non-living systems by building artificial cells from purified, component parts. To get the systems to behave in a somewhat predictable manner, biological parts are standardized and computationally modeled under cell-free conditions. Thus far we have built artificial cells that can sense and respond to the environment and are capable of chemically communicating with natural, living cells.

Some of our constructs can be obtained from addgene