Pier Luisi

P.L. Luisi received his scientific education at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, Italy, worked with P. Pino in Pisa, Volkenstein in Leningrad and S. Bernhard in Eugene, Oregon, before joining (1970) the Institut für Polymere at the ETH-Zürich.


Work and research

  • Pier Luigi Luisi is an Italian chemistry professor, who has worked in Switzerland.

When he is not doing science, natural scientist Pier Luigi Luisi looks for the purpose of life within the structure and function of life itself and extrapolate life's purpose from the activities of living organisms. He graduated in Pisa. He holds the view the natural scientists should look for the purpose of life within the structure and function of life itself.

Luisi has suggested that the concepts of "purpose" offered by science are a "mere mental construction" which depend on the social and religious traditions of individuals in the scientific community.

The "purpose" is a mere mental construction of the scientist observer, it depends on his/her intelligence, on his race, religion, scientific beliefs. This implies that the notion of purpose is not objective, but it is contextual, changing in time and is probably different in different societies and traditions and point of time.

In 1985 Luisi founded the "Cortona Week", an international, multi-discipline conference that studies "Natural Sciences and the Wholeness of Life". Currently he is director of the Synthetic Biology and Supramolecular Chemistry Laboratory and professor in the Biology Department at the Roma Tre University.

Source : Wikipedia



The Luisi lab research activity focuses on the general area of self-organization and self-reproduction of chemical and biological systems, in the framework of the field of origin of life and cell models.

The physical chemistry of surfactant aggregates, the study of reactions in compartments and the molecular biology of phage display provide the theoretical and experimental frameworks for the development of specific research projects.

The two main current projects – the Never Born Proteins and the Minimal Cell – can generally be ascribed to the domain of Synthetic Biology.

In addition, supporting research themes on the biophysics of surfactant aggregates form an integer part of the group’s activity.

Luisi lab people
Luisi lab website



Wieczorek, R.; Doerr, M.; Chotera, A.; Luisi, P. L.; Monnard, P. A.
Formation of RNA phosphodiester bond by histidine-containing dipeptides
ChemBioChem 2012, 14, 217-223.
Article on Publisher's website: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi



"Synthetic Modeling of Life and Cognition: Open Questions"
12-14th September 2013, University of Bergamo, Italy
Luisa Damiano (University of Bergamo)
Vincent C. Müller (Anatolia College/ACT & University of Oxford)


Synthetic biology: Minimal cell mimicry
Nature Chemistry | News and Views
Pier Luigi Luisi, Pasquale Stano

The self-reproduction of a giant lipid vesicle has been linked to the replication of encapsulated DNA — a promising combination for the construction of a minimalistic synthetic cell.



The Minimal Cell
The Biophysics of Cell Compartment and the Origin of Cell Functionality

Pier Luigi Luisi, Pasquale Stano (Eds.)
Springer, 1st Edition., 2011, X

In the last ten years there has been a considerable increase of interest on the notion of the minimal cell. With this term we usually mean a cell-like structure containing the minimal and sufficient number of components to be defined as alive, or at least capable of displaying some of the fundamental functions of a living cell. In fact, when we look at extant living cells we realize that thousands of molecules are organized spatially and functionally in order to realize what we call cellular life. This fact elicits the question whether such huge complexity is a necessary condition for life, or a simpler molecular system can also be defined as alive. Obviously, the concept of minimal cell encompasses entire families of cells, from totally synthetic cells, to semi-synthetic ones, to primitive cell models, to simple biomimetic cellular systems. Typically, in the experimental approach to the construction of minimal the main ingredient is the compartment. Lipid vesicles (liposomes) are used to host simple and complex molecular transformations, from single or multiple enzymic reactions, to polymerase chain reactions, to gene expression. Today this research is seen as part of the broader scenario of synthetic biology but it is rooted in origins of life studies, because the construction of a minimal cell might provide biophysical insights into the origins of primitive cells, and the emergence of life on earth. The volume provides an overview of physical, biochemical and functional studies on minimal cells, with emphasis to experimental approaches. 15 International experts report on their innovative contributions to the construction of minimal cells.

Chemical Synthetic Biology
Pier Luigi Luisi, Cristiano Chiarabelli (Eds)
Wiley, May 2011

Chemistry plays a very important role in the emerging field of synthetic biology. In particular, chemical synthetic biology is concerned with the synthesis of chemical structures, such as proteins, that do not exist in nature. With contributions from leading international experts, Chemical Synthetic Biology shows how chemistry underpins synthetic biology. The book is an essential guide to this fascinating new field, and will find a place on the bookshelves of researchers and students working in synthetic chemistry, synthetic and molecular biology, bioengineering, systems biology, computational genomics, and bioinformatics.

Cover stories in ChemBioChem:

"The Minimal Size of Liposome-Based Model Cells Brings about a Remarkably Enhanced Entrapment and Protein Synthesis"
Tereza Pereira de Souza, Dr., Pasquale Stano, Dr., Pier Luigi Luisi, Prof.
ChemBioChem, Volume 10 Issue 6, Pages 1056 - 1063


Professor Emeritus ETH-Zürich

Current Address
Dipartimento di Biologia
Università degli Studi di Roma Tre
Viale Marconi 446
00146 Roma

Tel.: +39.06.5733 6329
Fax: +39.06.5733 6321
e-mail : luisi@mat.ethz.ch