Structural and Spectroscopic Properties of Assemblies of Self-Replicating Peptide Macrocycles

Self-replication at the molecular level is often seen as essential to the early origins of life. Recently a mechanism of self-replication has been discovered in which replicator self-assembly drives the process. We have studied one of the examples of such self-assembling self-replicating molecules to a high level of structural detail using a combination of computational and spectroscopic techniques. Molecular Dynamics simulations of self-assembled stacks of peptide-derived replicators provide insights into the structural characteristics of the system and serve as the basis for semiempirical calculations of the UV–vis, circular dichroism (CD) and infrared (IR) absorption spectra that reflect the chiral organization and peptide secondary structure of the stacks. Two proposed structural models are tested by comparing calculated spectra to experimental data from electron microscopy, CD and IR spectroscopy, resulting in a better insight into the specific supramolecular interactions that lead to self-replication. Specifically, we find a cooperative self-assembly process in which β-sheet formation leads to well-organized structures, while also the aromatic core of the macrocycles plays an important role in the stability of the resulting fibers.