At the beginning there is… phase separation and fuel

Christoph Weber receives ERC Starting Grant


The European Research Council (ERC) has selected 436 early-career top researchers from 40 nationalities across Europe in the 2020 'Starting Grant' competition. The prestigious grants enable the best young researchers in Europe to build their own teams and to conduct pioneering research across all disciplines. Among the awardees is Christoph Weber, research group leader at the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems, and the CSBD! With his project „FuelledLife”, Christoph and his group want to understand how living cells regulate phase separation and to unveil the role of phase separation for the emergence of life.


"Living cells rely on the compartmentalisation of thousands of different molecules and their chemical reactions,” Christoph explains. “Remarkably, many of such compartments form by phase separation of polymers and are controlled by sequence-specific interactions but also cellular fuel driving the system away from thermodynamic equilibrium. If we knew how such polymers evolve in time and compartmentalise in multi-component mixtures, we would better understand the role of phase separation in living cells and how prebiotic cells could have emerged at the origin of life.”


The physicist continues, “My team and I will develop a theory for phase separation and chemical reactions in multi-component mixtures that are driven by irreversible, fuel-driven reactions. Our theoretical studies will let us understand how living cells regulate phase separation at the origin of life and determine the prerequisites of a protocell to divide, replicate and undergo selection."


Christoph will receive 1.5 million Euros over a period of five years. Congratulations to the Weber group!

Press Release on 2020 ERC Starting Grants