Peptides, membranes, ancient geology and the origins of Darwinian evolution

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The aim of this project is to investigate what role peptide stabilisation of protocells (liposomes) could realistically provide a selection force capable of explaining the emergence of Darwinian evolution in realistic pre-biotic systems.
This project builds on cutting-edge development in self-assembly and peptide chemistry with information gained from geological studies on one of the oldest rock formation on the planet (Pilbara, Australia). The project will study how amino acids and peptides polymerize inside liposomes upon repeated dehydration/rehydration cycles incorporating Precambrian-relevant minerals and clays as catalysts, with the ultimate target being the detection of chemically-evolved “fit” peptides that stabilize liposomal structures.

The candidate must have a passion for solving one of the biggest fundamental questions in science, and the ability to think creatively and independently to tackle these questions.

The candidate has at least BSc degree with significant chemistry component and some experience in synthetic organic chemistry. Scientific knowledge of biological chemistry, biology or geology would be an additional bonus.

The candidate must also have at least 1 year of research experience, e.g., through Honours, MSc research or equivalent as per UNSW entry guidelines for PhD. In most cases, we would expect that this research experience was within the field of chemistry, with preference for project that involved some synthetic organic chemistry, peptides or synthetic membranes (e.g., liposomes).

Further, we expect that the candidates for these highly competitive scholarships have obtained at least one publication in an internationally (Web of Science) recognised scientific journal. Additional work-related experience, including in industry, volunteering or other services to the community would be advantageous. 

Supervisory team

Van Kranendonk

Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences