H2020 PROGRAM | ProtoMet

ProtoMet – a European training network focusing on protometabolic pathways and exploring the chemical roots of synthetic biology.

ProtoMet is one of the H2020 ETN network projects that is dedicated to train a new generation of early-stage researchers, on unravelling how prebiotic chemistry could have created dissipative chemical systems that would generate the ideal environment for the support of early cellular life i.e. protocells. The main scientific idea of the ProtoMet network is to develop a protometabolic network that can house protocells within compartments analogous to the micropores present in the early solid structures as per the primordial soup theory. With five academic partners and two SMEs, ProtoMet is aiming to expand the scientific knowledge on the origins of life and bringing innovation through new dedicated technologies At the same time Protomet project offers the opportunity to young scientists to acquire valuable skills in systems chemistry, catalysis and flow chemistry in order to further strengthen their career development.


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Constructing protometabolic networks on chip: The formation of protocells via prebiotic chemistry at the micro scale

How life appears is still surrounded by a shade of mystery. Prebiotic chemistry, a new branch of chemistry aiming at studying the first chemical reactions and the formation of the first protocells, has significantly advanced and shed some light on the first steps of formation of the first protocellular structures.  The recreating and mimicking technologies for protometabolic reactions developed through the ProtoMet network will support the maintenance of the compartment that houses the protocell. How prebiotic chemistry gave rise to early life is still one of the fundamental questions to understanding the ‘how did life start’ mystery in science.

ProtoMet aims at extending the knowledge area of prebiotic chemistry and, protocellular life. The presence of industrial partners in this network is intended to boost the translation of results into the markets as well as to provide partners with cutting edge and dedicated instrumentation and analytical tools which will be developed through the joint efforts of the consortium members. The role of Cherry Biotech in particular, is to provide platforms that can control the chemical reaction parameters including temperature and pressure to mimic the prebiotic chemical reactions on chip. The ESRs that primarily focus on the construction of compartments that mimic protocellular structures will gain first-hand experience in how their formulations could be exploited as drug delivery vehicles through secondments at partner organizations including Cherry Biotech.  The ESRs working on the SMEs including Cherry Biotech will provide the required instrumentation and the engineering tools to mimic the protometabolic network inside the microenvironment offered via lab on chip devices that will be used by the network members to study in depth the catalytic reactions that create the feeder molecules for the protocells.


Figure 1: Insights and targeted research domains of ProtoMet


The ProtoMet network plans to challenge and train a new generation of scientists while moving forward our understanding early cellular life and the subsequent evolution into more complex forms of life. Eight Early-Stage Researchers (ESRs) will be trained in laboratories as well as companies taking advantage of a broad range of expertise in systems chemistry, synthetic biology, catalytic chemistry, science philosophy, innovation and start upping. The overarching goal of the network is to develop together a reconstituted protometabolism within compartments consisting of coacervates, vesicles and coacervate containing vesicles etched into micro-platforms containing channels that mimic the reaction networks that may have initiated the formation of the first protocells. In effect, the protometabolic networks developed through the joint science and innovation of the network will create and maintain the compartment that houses the protocell.  Ultimately, by becoming experts in elucidating the chemical underpinnings of all known living cells, the ESRs will be extremely well positioned to enter a wide variety of research fields from synthetic biology to medicinal chemistry in either industry or academia.

The ProtoMet Project is structured into different tasks and training activities all of which focus on a few key research goals:

  1. To investigate how catalytic chemical reactions that are prebiotic can lead to networks of protometabolic reactions that ultimately facilitates the necessary conditions to create the first protocells.
  2. To evaluate the effects of compartmentalisation on metabolic rates
  3. To produce a new cohort of early stage researchers with transferable skills well suited both for industry and academia.


ProtoMet consists of research groups at the University of Trento, University College London, Max Planck institute of Molecular Cell biology and Genetics, University of Strasbourg, University of the Basque Country, ETH Zurich and the biotech companies Elvesys and Cherry Biotech. Partner Organizations indlude Nanovex, Metallopharm, and Kutxagestion Zerbitzuak S.L.U.


This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 813873.

Disclaimer: this content reflects only the author’s view and the EU Agency is not responsible for the information it contains.