A variety of seminars and conferences are held at each of the departments and at the headquarters building in Washington, D.C. For department information see the links below.


Re-conceptualizing the Origin of Life

Monday, November 9, 2015 - 8:00am to Friday, November 13, 2015 - 3:00pm


Physics and chemistry have arrived at a deep understanding of the non-living world. Can we expect to reach similar insights, integrating concepts and quantitative explanation, in biology? Life at its origin should be particularly amenable to discovery of scientific laws governing biology, since it marks the point of departure from a predictable physical/chemical world to the novel and history-dependent living world. The origin of life problem is difficult because even the simplest living cell is highly evolved from the first steps toward life, of which little direct evidence remains. The conference aims to explore ways to build a deeper understanding of the nature of biology, by modeling the origins of life on a sufficiently abstract level, starting from prebiotic conditions on Earth and possibly on other planets. The conference will examine the origin of life as part of a larger concern with the origins of organization, including major transitions in the living state and structure formation in complex systems science.

Focus: Our goal is to host a workshop of broad scope but with targeted impact on key questions and core concepts about the origin of life on Earth, the organization of the biosphere, and the nature of the living state.

History: this conference is the outgrowth of a grassroots movement called "Modeling Origins of Life", MOL for short, that sprung up from a number of informal workshops that were organized in the US and in Japan in 2014.  See this white paper draft for more details.


Name Affiliation
Sara Walker, Chair Arizona State University
Chris Adami Michigan State University
Jim Cleaves Earth-Life Science Institute/Institute for Advanced Study
George Cody Carnegie Institution for Science
Lee Cronin University of Glasgow
Nicholas Guttenberg Earth-Life Science Institute
Douglas Erwin Smithsonian Institution
Piet Hut Earth-Life Science Institute/Institute for Advanced Study
Irena Mamajanov Carnegie Institution for Science
Norman Packard Protolife
Eric Smith Earth-Life Science Institute/Santa Fe Institute
Nathaniel Virgo Earth-Life Science Institute


Name Affiliation
Christoph Adami University of Michigan
Laurie Barge Jet Propulsion Laboratory
John Baross University of Washington
Henderson Cleaves Earth-Life Science Institute/Institute for Advanced Study
Lee Cronin University of Glasgow
Simon DeDeo Indiana University
Douglas Erwin Smithsonian Institution
Jessica Flack Santa Fe Institute
Christoph Flamm University of Vienna
Nigel Goldenfeld University of Illinois
Nicholas Guttenberg Earth-Life Science Institute
Robert Hazen Carnegie Institution for Science
Takashi Ikegami University of Tokyo
Betul Kaçar Harvard University
Manfred Laubichler Arizona State University
David Lynn Emory University
Rebecca MacLeod University of Glasgow
Irena Mamajanov Carnegie Institution for Science
William Marshal University of Wisconsin
James McInerney University of Manchester
Sijbren Otto Groningen
Olivier Rivoire Centre national de la recherche scientifique
Everett Shock Arizona State University
Eric Smith Earth-Life Science Institute/Santa Fe Institute
Nathaniel Virgo Earth-Life Science Institute
Sara Imari Walker Arizona State University


To maintain a productive workshop-style atmosphere, the conference is limited to 100 participants. Participants must therefore apply to ensure a space at the meeting. There is no registration fee.

Applications for participation are now open and may be submitted to the link at the bottom of the page. 

Applicants may also submit abstracts for the poster session, which will be held throughout the entire week and is integral to the workshop-style atmosphere of the meeting. The priority deadline for submissions for poster presentations is Aug. 1st, however applicants, including those wishing to present a poster, will be reviewed until the conference is fully subscribed. 


Monday Nov. 9th

Theme: Information in the Living World

8  9am
Breakfast – Rotunda
9 – 9:30am
Welcome: George Cody
Welcome Address
9:30 – 10:30am
Keynote: Chris Adami
"ʺInformation: What is it, and what is it to Life?"
10:30 – 11:00am Coffee Break ‐‑ Rotunda
11 – 11:40am
Jessica Flack
“Collective computation, uncertainty reduction, and the origins of biological space and time”
11:40 – 12:20pm
Olivier Rivoire
“Information in evolving populations”
12:20 – 2pm Lunch ‐‑ Rotunda
2 – 2:40pm
Michael Lachmann
“The evolution of function in abiotic systems”
2:40 – 3:20pm
Nobuto Takeuchi
“The origin of genes by spontaneous symmetry breaking”
3:20 3:50pm Coffee Break ‐‑ Rotunda
3:50 – 4:30pm
William Marshall
ʺAddressing the emergence of complexity: Measuring differentiation and integrated information"
4:30pm Poster Session and Hors d'ʹoeuvres ‐‑ Ballroom

Tuesday Nov. 10th
Theme: The Origin of Organization

8 9am Breakfast ‐‑ Rotunda
9 – 10am 
Keynote: Lee Cronin
ʺSearching chemical space for living systems using algorithms"
10 – 10:40am
Rebecca Turk-MacCleod
“Exploring the emergence of function in microfluidic droplets”
10:40 – 11:10am Coffee Break ‐‑ Rotunda
11:10 – 11:50am
Sijbren Otto
“Systems chemistry: Emergence of self‑replicators from dynamic molecular networks.”
11:50 – 12:30pm
David Lynn
“Coding orthogonal genotypic elements”
12:30 – 2pm Lunch ‐‑ Rotunda
2 – 2:40pm
Christoph Flamm
“Exploring chemical space with graph grammars”
2:40 – 3:20pm
Irena Mamajanov
"Asphalt opportunity: Functional prebiotic polymers"ʺ
3:20 ‐‑ 3:50pm Coffee Break ­‐‑ Rotunda
3:50 – 4:30pm
Henderson Cleaves
"ʺThe actual and the possible: What chemical space can tell us about biology"ʺ
4:30pm Poster Session and Hors d'ʹoeuvres ‐‑ Ballroom

Wednesday Nov. 11th
Theme: The Self in the World

8 9am Breakfast ‐‑ Rotunda
9 10am
Keynote: Sara Walker
ʺModeling the origin of life"
10 – 10:40am
Manfred Laubichler
“Extended evolution: Internalization and externalization processes in the origins and evolution of life”
10:40 – 11:10am Coffee Break ‐‑ Rotunda
11:10 – 11:50am
Nathaniel Virgo
“The emergence of individuality in physical and biological systems”
11:50 – 12:30pm
Matteo Monti
“Achieving closure in enzymes in artificial chemistries”
12:30 – 2pm Lunch ‐‑ Rotunda
2 – 2:40pm
Takashi Ikegami
“A Dynamics of Large Scale Swarms”
2:40 – 3:20pm
Simon DeDeo
“Joint machines, rate - distortion, and how to coarse - grain a mind (or world)”
3:20 – 3:50pm Coffee Break ­‐‑ Rotunda
3:50 – 4:30pm
Piet Hut & Sara Walker
"The Future of “Modeling the Origin of Life”
4:30pm Poster Session and Hors d'ʹoeuvres ­‐‑ Ballroom

Thursday Nov. 12th
Theme: Re-­‐‑Conceptualizing the Nature of the Living State

8 9am Breakfast ‐‑ Rotunda
9 10am
Keynote: Eric Smith
"Phase transitions in the origin of the biosphere"
10 – 10:40am
Nigel Goldenfeld
ʺUniversal biology and the emergence of homochirality"
10:40 – 11:10am Coffee Break ‐‑ Rotunda
11:10 – 11:50am
Nicholas Guttenburg
“Combinatoric scaling of heredity in pre-­‐‑biotic chemical systems”
11:50 – 12:30pm
Robert Hazen
"Mineral-­‐molecule interactions and life's origins"
12:30 – 2pm Lunch ‐‑ Rotunda
2 – 2:40pm
John Baross
“Ribofilms, biofilms and the unity of biochemistry”
2:40 – 3:20pm
Laurie Barge
“Hydrothermal chimneys as flow-­‐‑through chemical reactors: Laboratory simulations of far-from-equilibrium systems at seafloor interfaces”
3:20 3:50pm Coffee Break ‐‑ Rotunda
3:50 – 4:30pm
Everett Shock
“What about geochemistry compels life to emerge?”
4:30pm Break
5:30 – 6:45pm Reception ‐‑ Rotunda/Ballroom
6:45 – 8pm

Friday Nov. 13th
Theme: An Integrated View of Origins and Evolution

8 9am Breakfast ­‐‑ Rotunda
9 – 9:40am
Betul Kacar
“Accessing the artifacts of life'ʹs evolutionary history through ancient-modern hybrid model organisms”
9:40 – 10:20am
James McInerney
“The public goods hypothesis for the evolution of life on the planet.”
10:20 – 10:50am Coffee break ­‐‑ Rotunda
10:50am – 12pm
Keynote: Douglas Erwin
“A unified view of emergence and evolution?”
12pm– 1pm Lunch ‐‑ Rotunda
1pm-- Meeting Adjourns

The Cellular and Molecular Biology of Chlamydomonas

Chlamydomonas image, Louisa Howard, Dartmouth College
Sunday, June 17, 2018 - 4:00pm to Thursday, June 21, 2018 - 12:15pm


About the conference:

The meeting will have an international attendance, a strong interdisciplinary orientation, touch on may areas of biology, and foster extensive collaborations among researchers in the field. Chlamydomonas reinhardtii has become a sophisticated model system relevant to studies of biological processes and has been referred to as the ‘green yeast.’ This organism is being used to examine flagella structure and function, chloroplast biogenesis, structure-function of the photosynthetic apparatus (including carbon metabolism and electron transport), photoperception and phototaxis, nutrient deprivation responses (carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, phosphorous, and anion and cation deprivation), and lipid and starch synthesis, among other processes.

Join us:

Do not miss this meeting where you can build relationships that are key to future collaborations. The sessions will be organized to maximize opportunities for interdisciplinary group discussion and will be complemented by poster sessions for detailed presentation of experimental work. Oral presentations will be selected on the basis of their contributions to the session topics and preference will be given to young researchers, for whom we believe this experience will be of special career significance.

General Program:

The program is diverse but emphasizes young people and some of the most exciting developing areas. It also has some community oriented activities which includes a public talk by Susan Dutcher on June 17 that deals with the flagella/cilia and what it has contributed to our understanding of diseases resulting from cilia dysfunction, and a workshop on the use of the new Chlamydomonas indexed, mapped library. Tehcnology has also made substantial advances in the last 2 years including the new mutant library from Martin Jonikas and the use of CRISPR and Talens Technologies to generate targeted mutants in a fairly efficient manner, as discussed by Molnar and Hegemann. Although the complete schedule for the meeting has not been finalized, we have assembled most of the talks, the speakers and the topics on which they will speak.



Public talk



Session 1. Structure-Function of the Flagella

Session 2. Developing Technologies


Session 3. Plastid Structure, Function and Biogenesis


Session 4. Carbon Metabolism

Session 5. Cell Cycle, Photoperception, Heat and Circadian Control


Session 6. Novel Studies and Developing Systems





Image credit: Louisa Howard, Dartmouth College

Reference to Person: