How do molecules create life? Understanding the molecular mechanisms of life is the greatest challenge in the molecular sciences. The construction of a synthetic cell is the best approach to really uncover life's secrets. In recent decades, syntehtic biology has made tremendous progress in engineering living systems and creating minimal cells. However, only the bottom up construction of life requires us to address the fundamental challenge of understanding life. There is no blueprint to construct a living entity that can extract energy and nutrients from its environment to sustain itself, grow, and divide. Constructing a cell from its building blocks would be a monumental achievement and the fundamental breakthroughs in chemistry, physics and biology that will undoubtedly result from this effort will change the fields of physical and biological sciences forever. The magnitude of the challenge is tremendous, but European researchers are ready to take a global lead in the concerted, multinational effort across the physical and biological sciences that is required to build a synthetic cell.
There are many ways to study life, and one that is particularly appealing is regarding it as self-organized active soft matter that is away from equilibrium ``just the right way’’. This proposal is of utmost fundamental importance as it provides a perfect complementary environment in which this notion can be explored and developed. A natural starting point will be to think about how we can begin to put together simple building blocks - from basic ingredients that we fully understand - that would exhibit the kind of active behaviour we find in living systems. A next important question to address is the stability of a living system made of active components, when the nonequilibrium processes that characterize life such as motility, chemical signalling, and cell division are present. The complementary studies of these different aspects, which can be harboured in such an all-encompassing European flagship initiative, can help create all the elements that are required for making living matter from the bottom-up. This initiative has my full and enthusiastic support, and I'd like to congratulate Professor Marileen Dogterom for taking the leadership of this important campaign.
This initiative dovetails very well with the COST project I chair, chemobrionics - see http://www.chemobrionics.eu/about - which is very much intertwined with the origin of life - see https://royalsocietypublishing.org/toc/rsfs/2019/9/6