Philipp Holliger

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MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology
Holliger, Philipp

Philipp Holliger is a program leader at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (MRC-LMB) in Cambridge, UK. Phil graduated at ETH Zürich with Steve Benner before moving to the Cambridge Centre for Protein Engineering (CPE), for his Ph.D. and postdoctoral fellowship with Sir Greg Winter. In 2000, he joined the MRC-LMB as a tenure-track and was appointed program leader in 2005. His research interests span the fields of chemical biology, synthetic biology and directed evolution.

Wed July 10 | 2:00 - 4:00 | Parallel Session

Synthetic biology seeks to probe fundamental aspects of biological form and function by construction (i.e. resynthesis) rather than deconstruction (analysis). Synthesis thus complements reductionist and analytic studies of life, and allows novel approaches towards fundamental biological questions.     

We have been exploiting the synthesis paradigm to explore the chemical etiology of the genetic apparatus shared by all life on earth. Specifically, we ask why information storage and propagation in biological systems is based on just two types of nucleic acids, DNA and RNA. Is the chemistry of life’s genetic system based on chance or necessity? Does it reflect a “frozen accident”, imposed at the origin of life, or are DNA and RNA functionally superior to simple alternatives.    

I’ll present progress towards in the synthesis, replication  and evolution of such alternative genetic polymers (XNA) [1]. Such synthetic genetic polymers expand the central dogma and conclusively address questions such as the capacity of genetic polymers other than DNA and RNA for information storage, heredity and evolution.    

The work also opens up an entirely new field of “synthetic genetics” concerned with exploration of the informational, structural, and catalytic potential of these novel polymers. Synthetic genetics will not only advance our understanding of the parameters and precise chemical logic of molecular information encoding and retrieval but promises to provide a rich source of ligands, catalysts, and nanostructures with tailor-made chemistries for manifold applications ranging from medicine to material science [2].