Claudia Bonfio, a Marie Skłodoswka Curie Fellow in the LMB’s PNAC Division, has won the 2020 Dream Chemistry Award for her dream project proposal, “Unlocking primitive chemical messages”.
The Dream Chemistry Award is a contest in which young scientists who have been nominated can submit an idea for a visionary project in chemistry or related disciplines and prizes are awarded for ambitious projects based on the originality and strength of the ideas. The contest was established in 2013 by the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences and since 2017 the principle organiser has been the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the Czech Academy of Sciences. Claudia was one of five finalists to present their idea at an online event on 30th November.
Claudia is particularly interested in the origins of life and how we might be able to recreate the chemistry that allowed the formation and function of the first cells. At the LMB, her research has focused on the assembly of prebiotic lipids into membranes and non-enzymatic RNA replication within primordial cells. During her PhD at the University of Trento, Claudia studied iron-sulfur clusters, showing how they could be formed under early Earth conditions and finding that pre-biotic iron-sulfur species have similar electron-transfer activity to those responsible for mitochondrial respiration in modern cells.
Combining this expertise, Claudia’s prize-winning dream project was to recreate primitive communication between protocells. In multicellular organisms, communication between cells is of key importance so that all of the cells do what is required in the moment allowing them to work together for the benefit of all. Although not cooperating in the same way, single-celled organisms also communicate with their environment, including sharing information about population density. This kind of simple interaction is ancient, but it is unknown how the earliest communication between cells might have arisen. Claudia’s dream project aims to use functionalisation of primitive cells, such as prebiotic membrane channels and responsive systems, to investigate their interaction.
Claudia won a statuette, €11,000, and the opportunity to give a talk about her research at the online event after being named the 2020 Dream Chemistry Award winner. Claudia has previously received the Royal Society of Chemistry’s 2019 Dalton Emerging Researcher Award and the two most prestigious awards given by the Italian Chemical Society to young scientists. Claudia was part of the team that developed the exhibit, A Recipe for Primordial Life, for the 2019 Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition.
Claudia: “The Dream Chemistry Award gave me the strength and confidence to believe in my scientific dreams. It was a unique experience that allowed me to think about what I want to achieve in the future and to define the small steps required to get there. As many others said before me ‘Dream big, start small’.”