Lectures and seminars What is life? lecture - Earth’s first bioreactors: the origin of life meets bioengineering

26-01-2023 2:00 pm Add to iCal
Campus Solna Cesar Lecture Hall (formerly Retzius), Berzelius lab, Berzelius väg 3, KI Solna Campus and online via Zoom (details below)

Speaker: Joana C. Xavier, Division of Biosciences, University College of London
Hosts: Ingemar Ernberg & Eric Scarfone


Time: Jan 26, 2023 02:00 PM Stockholm


Meeting ID: 673 0134 4437


Abstract: Cells are the most complex systems known at the nanoscale, but they were not designed or built from scratch by engineers. That was a task of Nature, which makes Bioengineering a very particular kind of engineering. Until recently, bioengineers have relied mostly on reductionism, deconstructing cells to focus on their parts (e.g. in genetic engineering and protein engineering). There must exist, however, general principles of Life applicable in Bioengineering and vital in the long road of research towards the origin of the first cells. In my work I have identified some of these as emergence, (self-)organization, communication and cooperation, integrity (homeostasis), efficient  use of catalysts, among others. In this talk I will give a general perspective of those, and of how we can transition from a paradigm of chemical retrosynthesis focused on individual cell parts to one where we consider how they function together. This perspective will be supported by examples from my own work that include i) studies of early life (the last universal and bacterial common ancestors), ii) predictions of early autocatalytic metabolic networks at the origin of life, iii) the role of currencies in early metabolic networks, and finally iv) what makes hydrothermal vents the geochemical setting that aligns best with the predicted, dynamic, necessary niche for the origin of cells;  makes them the most likely first bioreactors on Earth.


Joana C. Xavier, MSc. Ph.D.


is a leading scientist in the young generaltion studying Origin of life and What is life. She is a bioengineer, computational biologist, author, explorer, and philosophy enthusiast. She asks life’s deepest and oldest question—how did cells first emerge on Earth?—among many others, which invariably orbit fundamental features of life.

Joana is currently based in London, UK. She has worked in Portugal, Germany, Hungary and the U.S.A., volunteered in India and spent months in Canada, Japan and Brazil. Her network of friends and collaborators envelops our beautiful blue dot. She holds an MSc in Bioengineering with a specialization in Biotechnology, and a PhD in Chemical and Biological Engineering with a specialization in Systems Biology. Joana is interested in biosciences and bioengineering, the simplest cells, all kinds of networks, nature, art, philosophy, literature, music, sustainable pescetarianism, diversity, equity and inclusion, compassion and meditation.

Joana is also one of the founders of the active group OoLEN, https://www.oolen.org, an international post-disciplinary network of early-career researchers on the origin of life.


Ingemar Ernberg Professor