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Find on this page the new PhD and Post-doc positions available within the research group.

We are looking for two PhD candidates for a joint project between the groups of Prof. Tibor Kudernac, Prof. Wesley Browne, and Prof. Nathalie Katsonis, that will be carried out within the framework of the Growth Fund initiative “Big Chemistry” (https://bigchemistry.nl/). The program ‘Big Chemistry’ has received over 90 million euros from the National Growth Fund to position the Netherlands as a global leader in chemical robotics combined with artificial intelligence. In this context, it becomes possible to collect large datasets on properties of molecular systems.

The core scientific challenge that will be addressed within this case study is the stability of RNA strands in water. RNA is well-known to be unstable in aqueous solutions, which is why, e.g., RNA vaccines, have to be stored at quite low temperatures. RNA degradation in water at room temperature is primarily driven by intramolecular transesterification, that leads to the cleavage of phosphodiester bonds and fragmentation of the RNA chain. It has been hypothesized that this intermolecular transesterification can occur only in specific conformations.

You will investigate this hypothesis systematically, and you will develop supramolecular strategies to control RNA conformation reversibly. Additionally, you will explore the correlation between RNA conformation and its catalytic properties. Ultimately, the outcomes of this research in chemistry will provide supramolecular solutions to pressing healthcare challenges.

For more information : PhD positions on Supramolecular Approaches to Improve RNA Stability

The origin of life on Earth stands as one of the great mysteries of science. We are excited to invite applications from outstanding candidates for a PhD position aimed at advancing research on the chemical origins of life on Earth, with a specific focus on our newly funded Protocell Project.

Researchers generally agree that basic RNA molecules likely appeared before proteins and other nucleic acids, and were thus present at the onset of life on Earth. The prevailing view is thus that life started with basic RNA molecules, enclosed in early cells (known as protocells), and capable of self-replication without assistance from other molecules. Multiple mechanisms have been proposed for this supramolecular replication, with a growing emphasis on those mechanisms that involve autocatalytic feedback. However, one key unknown remains: for multiple copying cycles to work, the template RNA molecule and the newly formed RNA strand have to separate mechanically after the first copy is made, and how this mechanical separation could have happened effectively remains unclear and heavily debated.

In the context of an ambitious NWO-Vici research program, we will explore the possibility that, in the presence of primordial lipids, RNA replication was enabled by flows established inside protocells, in the presence of amphiphilic molecules. We are looking for a chemist with a background in physical organic chemistry. Good understanding of molecular reactivity, macromolecular chemistry and/or supramolecular chemistry are of added value.

The outcomes of this research extend beyond unraveling the origins of life, because they involve the supramolecular chemistry of RNA and its catalytic properties. Harnessing the dual role of RNA as both genetic information carrier and catalyst opens avenues for innovative solutions to modern health challenges.

For more information : PhD Supramolecular Mechano-Chemistry in the Early Earth Replication of RNA

We invite applications from outstanding candidates, for a PhD position aimed at advancing research on the chemical origins of life on Earth, with a specific focus on our recently funded Protocell Project.

The origin of life on Earth stands as one of the great mysteries of science. Researchers have long concluded that the chemical reactions that allowed life to emerge took place in microscopic compartments, called protocells. However, it is still not known how these protocells were formed. In the context of an NWO-Vici research program, we will explore the possibility that protocells were made of lipids, formed by solar irradiation of a primordial oil layer that covered the ocean. This explorative work will include studies of chemical reactivity, molecular self-assembly and the physico-chemical behavior of plausible lipids (primarily fatty acids).

The results of this research will also apply to an important contemporary issue: the mitigation of environmental damage by treatment and removal of the oil layers that pollute the ocean.

For more information : PhD position Chemical Origin of Primordial Cells in the First Ocean