Perhaps one of the most significant and challenging problems in chemical biology is understanding how non-living matter can assemble to form life. We are approaching this problem through the synthesis of artificial cells, developing coupling reactions that drive the self-assembly, growth, and reproduction of lipid vesicle assemblies. To guide our work, we are developing chemical tools to blueprint the structure and function of modern cells. Using this combined approach, we strive to understand the prerequisite chemistry from which biology can emerge.  

Devaraj Lab is hiring postdoctoral fellows. Click below if interested in joining the lab.


September 29, 2019

Tetrahedron Young Investigator Award

Neal Devaraj has been selected to receive the 2021 Tetrahedron Young Investigator Award in Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry. The Tetrahedron Young Investigator Awards were created in 2005 by the Executive Board of Editors and the Publisher of Tetrahedron Publications. These two awards are presented to two individuals under 40 years of age who have exhibited "exceptional creativity and dedication" in the fields of Organic Synthesis and of Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry respectively.

July 22, 2020

Ahanjit Bhattacharya becomes finalist for Reaxys prize

One of the world’s most prestigious awards for graduate students in the chemical sciences, the Reaxys Ph.D. Prize, recognizes accomplished young scientists for their innovative and rigorous research. UC San Diego’s Ahanjit Bhattacharya is among this year’s 45 finalists for the prize—a global competition open to any individual who is earning or has recently completed a Ph.D. in any discipline of chemistry or related field of science. 

December 10, 2019

Researchers ‘Handed’ $4M to Boot-Up Mirror Cell Synthesis

With a new grant of $4 million from the National Science Foundation, UC San Diego’s Neal Devaraj and Yale University’s Farren Isaacs will work to design, construct and safely deploy mirror DNA, RNA and proteins; predict the physiology of cells with mirror components and assess the risks and rewards of mirror life.

November 01, 2019

Leo Hendrik Baekeland Award

Neal Devaraj has been selected to receive the 2019 Baekeland Award. The North Jersey Section established the award in 1944 to commemorate the technical and industrial achievements of Leo Hendrik Baekeland, who served as ACS president in 1924, and to encourage younger chemists to emulate his example. The award is given once every 2 years in recognition of accomplishments in pure or applied chemistry to an American chemist under the age of 40.

April 19, 2019

Guggenheim Fellowship

Neal Devaraj receives one of the 2019 Guggenheim Fellowships in the Natural Sciences. Guggenheim Fellowships have been awarded annually since 1925 by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation to those "who have demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts."

February 01, 2019

Henrike Niederholtmeyer wins 1st place prize at the Fourth Annual UCSD Chemistry and Biochemistry Postdoctoral Research Symposium

Postdoctoral fellow Henrike Niederholtmeyer received 1st prize for "best oral presentation" at the recent Fourth Annual UCSD Chemistry and Biochemistry Postdoctoral Research Symposium. She presented her recent work in eukaryotic cell-mimics.

Please reload


Changing the structure of lipids can play important roles in membrane biology and dysregulation can lead to disease. While artificial membranes have been used to model the properties of native membranes, previous methods have not been able to mimic lipid membrane remodeling. We recently have shown that reversible chemical reactions can be harnessed to achieve spontaneous remodeling of lipids in synthetic membranes. 

Though Native Chemical Ligation (NCL) has been ubiquitously used to assemble peptides and proteins, we have used NCL to assemble phospholipids. This enables nonenzymatic formation of phospholipid vesicles/membranes from thioester precursors, mimicking the membrane protein catalyzed assembly of phospholipids in live cells, which also uses long chain thioesters as precursors.