Niles Lehman

Date of Award

Spring 5-10-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Chemistry



Physical Description

1 online resource (ix, 150 pages)


RNA, Genetic recombination, Game theory, Molecular evolution




How life originated from physical and chemical processes is one of the great questions still unanswered today. Studies towards this effort have transitioned from the notion of a single self-replicating entity to the idea that a network of interacting molecules made this initial biological leap. In order to understand the chemical kinetic and thermodynamic mechanisms that could engender pre-life type networks we present an empirical characterization of a network of RNA recombinase molecules. We begin with 1-, 2-, and 3-molecular ensembles and provide a game theoretic analysis to describe the frequency dependent dynamics of competing and cooperating RNA genotypes. This is then extended to 4- and 5-membered networks where varying topologies are compared and mechanisms that could lead to preferential growth and selection of genotypes are described. At the core of these network connections is ribozyme catalysis initiated through a 3-nucleotide base-pairing interface. With the development of a fluorescence anisotropy method, we are able to illustrate a correlation between these binding thermodynamics and network outcomes. Finally, we consider how the heterogeneity of the environment could impact network dynamics and develop a spectrum of spatial inducing methods in which our chemical populations can be probed. These experiments illustrate simple chemical dynamics of RNA interactions, yet these very processes are the foundation for building complexity and ultimately from where selection and evolvability derive.

Persistent Identifier