Life? – A Fresh Scientific Approach to the Basic Principles of Life (completed)

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"What is life?" – This fundamental question has been occupying mankind for centuries. Quite recently, research areas located especially at the interface between the natural and life sciences emerged that provide new insights on this question: biophysics, synthetic biology and systems chemistry explore and develop artificial cell systems no longer definable as living or non-living. With the help of modern techniques biological cells can be mapped and analyzed. Scientists increasingly succeed in simulating processes of life within artificial systems or in developing novel artificial systems based on basic principles of life.

These approaches seek a better understanding of fundamental principles of life, and in doing so they open up intriguing and novel perspectives on life to complement the philosophical view. With its initiative the Volkswagen Foundation aimed to support unique and excellent projects at the interface between the natural and life sciences with this particular focus.

Scope of Funding

Within the completed funding initiative the Foundation has supported single investigator projects as well as (international) cooperative projects working at the interface between natural and life sciences which hold promise of producing novel findings on principles of life. The majority of the projects are still running (as of summer 2020). Further details on the former conditions can be found under Information for Applicants (pdf).

Groups funded still have the opportunity to apply for additional funding regarding science communication (module) or corona-crisis related extensions (module) and to participate in media trainings (conducted in German). Proposals concerning modules must be submitted electronically in English via the electronic application system.


The funding initiative "Life? – A Fresh Scientific Approach to the Basic Principles of Life" was launched in 2015. Till 2020 36 projects, mainly international joint projects, totaling 48 million euros, have been funded. In the coming years the funding focus will be on status symposia fostering scientific exchange and networking among the groups funded.

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Visit our Grants Database and take a look at projects already supported with this funding offer.