Growth and heredity of protocells at the origin of life under simulated hydrothermal conditions

Nick Lane (primary)
Genetics, Evolution and Environment
Andrew Pomankowski (secondary)
Genetics, Evolution and Environment


Autotrophic metabolism in bacteria and archaea is driven by electrochemical ion gradients across the plasma membrane to fix CO2 as organic molecules. Computational modelling and experimental work suggest that a rudimentary form of membrane heredity could have driven growth of protocells under alkaline hydrothermal conditions. This project will develop the initial computational modelling to consider the introduction of an energy currency (e.g. acetyl phosphate) in this setting, specifically analysing the prebiotic synthesis of amino acids, sugars and nucleotides. The project will then test the model’s predictions in the lab, using microfluidic chips coupled to FTIR, Raman, GC-MS, LC-MS and HPLC.


Jordan SF, Rammu H, Zheludev I, Hartley AM, Marechal A, Lane N (2019). Promotion of protocell self-assembly from mixed amphiphiles at the origin of life. Nature Ecol. Evol. 3, 1705–1714.

Harrison SA, Lane N (2018). Life as a guide to prebiotic nucleotide synthesis. Nature Commun. 9, 5176.

West T, Sojo V, Pomiankowski A, Lane N (2017). The origin of heredity in protocells. Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. B 372, 20160419.

Sojo V, Pomiankowski A, Lane N (2014). A bioenergetic basis for membrane divergence in archaea and bacteria. PLOS Biology 12: e1001926.

Martin W, Sousa FL, Lane N (2014). Energy at life’s origin. Science 344: 1092-93.

Molecules, cells and industrial biotechnology
Area of Biology
Chemical BiologyMicrobiology
Techniques & Approaches
BiochemistryChemistryEngineeringGeneticsSimulation / Modelling