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Life 2015, 5(1), 872-887; doi:10.3390/life5010872

Coupled Phases and Combinatorial Selection in Fluctuating Hydrothermal Pools: A Scenario to Guide Experimental Approaches to the Origin of Cellular Life

1
Department of Biomolecular Engineering, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA
2
DigitalSpace Research, Boulder Creek, CA 95006, USA
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editors: Pasquale Stano and Fabio Mavelli
Received: 12 October 2014 / Revised: 17 February 2015 / Accepted: 6 March 2015 / Published: 13 March 2015
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Protocells - Designs for Life)
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Abstract

Hydrothermal fields on the prebiotic Earth are candidate environments for biogenesis. We propose a model in which molecular systems driven by cycles of hydration and dehydration in such sites undergo chemical evolution in dehydrated films on mineral surfaces followed by encapsulation and combinatorial selection in a hydrated bulk phase. The dehydrated phase can consist of concentrated eutectic mixtures or multilamellar liquid crystalline matrices. Both conditions organize and concentrate potential monomers and thereby promote polymerization reactions that are driven by reduced water activity in the dehydrated phase. In the case of multilamellar lipid matrices, polymers that have been synthesized are captured in lipid vesicles upon rehydration to produce a variety of molecular systems. Each vesicle represents a protocell, an “experiment” in a natural version of combinatorial chemistry. Two kinds of selective processes can then occur. The first is a physical process in which relatively stable molecular systems will be preferentially selected. The second is a chemical process in which rare combinations of encapsulated polymers form systems capable of capturing energy and nutrients to undergo growth by catalyzed polymerization. Given continued cycling over extended time spans, such combinatorial processes will give rise to molecular systems having the fundamental properties of life. View Full-Text
Keywords: protocells; hydrothermal fields; early evolution protocells; hydrothermal fields; early evolution
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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).

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Damer, B.; Deamer, D. Coupled Phases and Combinatorial Selection in Fluctuating Hydrothermal Pools: A Scenario to Guide Experimental Approaches to the Origin of Cellular Life. Life 2015, 5, 872-887.

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