Our goals are to understand the evolution of molecules and to predict the course of evolution in simple systems. We focus on life-like but non-living chemical systems, such as ribozymes, membrane vesicles, and viruses.
Understanding evolution in molecular detail requires knowledge of the 'fitness' landscape of molecules. If a mutation occurs, how does the activity of the protein or RNA change? What are the basic features of the fitness landscape? Are there any general principles? We are exploring these questions experimentally by building and analyzing libraries of related molecules. We also use experiment, theory and simulation to study the effect of chemical constraints on the evolution of replicators during the origin of life.
We are also very interested in manipulating the evolution of simple systems to address problems in the real world. The imminent crisis of antibiotic resistance of pathogenic bacteria has prompted us to focus on the possibility of using bacteriophages to attack pathogens. We study molecular determinants of host specificity in the filamentous bacteriophage to understand the limits and evolvability of the host spectrum.