Inorganic Biology and Evolvable Systems
In biological systems, arguably the ultimate example of chemical complexity, subtle control of a huge number of interlinked non-equilibrium processes is achieved by partitioning within semi-permeable membranes, which are fine-tuned in their ability to allow or deny the passage of different chemical species. We are increasingly drawn to the complex and highly evolved mechanisms found in nature, to help us to design and build molecular ensembles and aggregates of our own; that can effectively ‘build’ or ‘manage’ themselves without needing our constant intervention. Research under the Inorganic Biology theme aims to put together a toolbox of inorganic materials; molecular metal oxides, hybrid-functionalised polyoxometalates and coordination compounds, which allows us to construct pre-designed complex chemical systems that have emergent properties, i.e. properties pertaining to the overall system rather than just its components. It is often proposed that in order for a system to be considered as living, it requires, at a minimal level, some form of containment such as a membrane or cell-wall, and a means of sequestering material from its environment to facilitate growth and/or replication. Coupled to this, some form of information storage and ability pass that information from one entity to the next generation allows Darwinian evolution to take place. By combining our inorganic toolbox and knowledge of chemical complexity, we can start to address these points; metal oxide based membranes for containment, growth and division by osmotically driven morphogenesis and information storage in molecular metal oxides, and will eventually be able to synthesise an inorganic chemical cell capable life-like function.
G. J. T. Cooper, R. W. Bowman, E. P. Magennis, F. Fernandez-Trillo, C. Alexander, M. J. Padgett, L. Cronin*, ‘Directed Assembly of Inorganic Polyoxometalate-based Micrometer- Scale Tubular Architectures by Using Optical Control’, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., 2012, 51, 12754–12758. PDF
G. J. T. Cooper, P. J. Kitson, R. S. Winter, M. Zagnoni, D.-L. Long, L. Cronin*, ‘Modular Redox-Active Inorganic Chemical Cells: iCHELLs’, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., 2011, 50, 10373-10376. PDF
L. Cronin, ‘Defining New Architectural Design Principles with 'Living' Inorganic Materials’, Archit. Design. 2011, 34-43. PDF
C. Ritchie, G. J. T. Cooper, Y.-F. Song, C. Streb, H. Yin, A. D. C. Parenty, D. A. MacLaren, and L. Cronin* ‘Spontaneous Assembly and Real-Time Growth of Micron-Scale Tubular Structures from Polyoxometalate-Based Inorganic Solids’, Nature Chemistry, 2009, 1, 47-52. PDF