Dutch EVOLF research programme receives €40 million in 10-year funding

The EVOLF (“Evolving life from non-life”) programme aims to build a living synthetic cell from lifeless biomolecules, using laboratory evolution and artificial intelligence. The research programme is led by a multidisciplinary team of Dutch scientists and has just received ten years of funding from the Dutch Research Council (NWO) as part of the Summit Grant scheme. Excellent news for synthetic cell research!

Evolving living cells from lifeless molecules – the EVOLF research programme

What is life? How do living systems differ from non-living ones? Can living cells be created from lifeless molecules? To answer these questions, a consortium of 31 scientists working in the Netherlands has created a new research consortium, EVOLF (“Evolving life from non-life”), which builds on two previous NWO-Gravitation consortia, NanoFront (2013-2023) and BaSyC (2017-2027).

Using an entirely new approach involving laboratory evolution aided by artificial intelligence, the EVOLF project will use lifeless biomolecules to build a living synthetic cell with the attributes of living systems.

Cees Dekker, researcher at Delft University of Technology, co-founding member of SynCellEU, and EVOLF’s main applicant: “Our goal is to integrate cellular functions into one unified synthetic cell that can autonomously replicate, communicate and evolve.”

The team is also developing ethical guidelines for the responsible development of synthetic life. “philosophers and humanities scholars will work together with scientists on articulating a new definition of life as well as responsible research guidelines to establish conditions where humans remain in firm control of synthetic life,”  emphasised Cees Dekker.

Ten-year funding from the Dutch Research Council

On 24 May, the Dutch Research Council (NWO) revealed the five research projects that have been awarded the Summit Grant, a funding instrument designed to enable research consortia to achieve world-class status. EVOLF has received funding of €40 million over ten years, enabling the consortium to hire 100 PhD students, postdocs and technicians, as well as installing essential infrastructure and enabling technologies. In realising its dream of building a synthetic cell, the consortium is aiming for a breakthrough in the life sciences on par with the discovery of the DNA double helix or the decoding of the human genome.

Who is involved in the EVOLF programme?

The EVOLF consortium comprises 31 scientists from seven Dutch universities: Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), AMOLF, University of Groningen, Radboud University, Wageningen University & Research, Hubrecht Institute and VU Amsterdam.

The team combines an exceptional range of skills, from natural sciences and engineering to ethics and responsible innovation. Many members are already working closely together on the BaSyC programme. The EVOLF team also includes new members with the expertise to go beyond BaSyc’s rational design approach, such as Alexander van Oudenaarden for single-cell omics analysis and Kristin Grußmayer for AI-assisted cell selection.

Among them:

Main applicant: Cees Dekker – Delft University of Technology


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