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Systems Chemistry: Reaction Networks for Life-Like Behavior

Life is probably - and I am open for discussions - nothing else but a complex network of biochemical reactions that hierarchically integrate into systems to realize emergent functions: Adaptation, evolution, self-replication, decision-making.

Systems chemistry is the science of studying networks of chemical reactions, that can cross regulate by activation, autocatalysis and feedback, and that can be coupled to self-assembling species, to in the end realize emergent structural and functional properties not inherent to a single molecule. It connects different fields of chemistry and soft matter nanoscience, and will be one of the interdisciplinary key disciplines in chemical sciences for the 21st century, providing fundamental breakthroughs towards life-like materials with adaptive, active and autonomous functions, ultimately giving rise to some sort of chemical intelligence.

We research on chemical reaction networks with an emphasis on dissipative cyclic reaction networks for materials systems applications, and with a focus to connect different languages of chemical reaction networks. Dynamic DNA Nanoscience and some chemical fuels are parts of our toolbox. 

This research is supported by an ERC Starting Grant, by the European Training Network Creanet, and by the Collaborative Research Center 1552 "Defects and Defect Engineering in Soft Matter"

6 Selected References:

1.  A. Sarkar, B. Duzs, A. Walther “Fuel-Driven Enzymatic Reaction Networks to Program Autonomous Thiol/Disulfide Redox Systems” J. Am. Chem. Soc. 164, 10281 (2024).

2. M. Sun, J. Deng, A. Walther “Communication and Cross-Regulation between Chemically Fueled Sender and Receiver Reaction Networks“ Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 62, e202214499 (2022).

3. S. Groeer, K. Schuhmann, S. Loescher, A. Walther “Molecular communication relays for dynamic cross-regulation of self-sorting fibrillar self-assemblies” Sci. Adv. 7, eabj5827 (2021).

4. J. Deng, A. Walther “Autonomous DNA nanostructures instructed by hierarchically concatenated chemical reaction networks” Nat. Commun. 14, 5132 (2021). 

5. J. Deng, A. Walther "ATP-Powered Molecular Recognition to Engineer Transient Multivalency and Self-Sorting 4D Hierarchical Systems" Nat. Commun. 11, 3658 (2020)..

6. Heinen, L.; Walther, A. “Programmable Dynamic Steady States in ATP-Driven Non-Equilibrium DNA Systems“ Sci. Adv., 5, eaaw0590, (2019).



1. Deng, J., Walther, A. “ATP-Responsive and ATP-Fueled Self-Assembling Systems and Materials” Adv. Mater. 32, 2002629 (2020).

2. Emerging area article: Heinen, L.; Walther, A. “Approaches to Program the Time Domain of Self-Assemblies“ Invited emerging area article for the 10th year Soft Matter issue, Soft Matter, 11, 7857 (2015).

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