Riccardo Rao

Medical University of Vienna

I completed my PhD at the University of Luxembourg, under the supervision of M. Esposito. During my doctoral studies, I established a thermodynamic description of generic chemical systems operating far from thermodynamic equilibrium. This provided the foundations to characterize the efficiency of energy transduction in biochemical processes such as metabolic networks. I later moved to the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, and the Rockefeller University, New York City. In collaboration with the Laboratory of Living Matter led by S. Leibler, I have been investigating microbial ecological systems, as well as evolutionary dynamics. I am currently working within the group of Complex Systems at the Medical University of Vienna/Complexity Science Hub.


Tuesday April 18th

Nonequilibrium thermodynamics of chemical reaction networks

Cellular functioning is based on coupled biochemical processes enabling the conversion of chemicals and energy from on form to another. A notable example is metabolism, through which cells convert the energy stored in energy-rich molecules, such as sugars, into a form that is readily usable, typically ATP. A mechanistic understanding of cellular energetics would greatly enhance our understanding of cell biology, but is hindered by (i) the complexity of cellular processes (metabolism, for instance, may involve thousands of chemical reactions and species), and (ii) the fact that cells operate far from thermodynamic equilibrium, i.e. a continuous supply of energy is required. In my presentation, I will first review the nonequilibrium thermodynamics of generic networks of chemical reactions, such as metabolism. Leveraging the notion of conservation law, I will introduce an algorithmic way of identifying a minimal description of the fluxes of chemicals and energy operated by network, as well as the thermodynamic forces that drive the network far from equilibrium. I will finally show how these tools can be used to assess energy conversion in central energy metabolism, the core of cellular metabolism.