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Open AccessConcept Paper
Life 2015, 5(1), 447-458;

Protocells: At the Interface of Life and Non-Life

College of Life Sciences, Wuhan University, Wuhan 430072, China
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editors: Pasquale Stano and Fabio Mavelli
Received: 25 October 2014 / Accepted: 2 February 2015 / Published: 9 February 2015
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Protocells - Designs for Life)
Full-Text   |   PDF [455 KB, uploaded 9 February 2015]   |  


The cellular form, manifesting as a membrane-bounded system (comprising various functional molecules), is essential to life. The ultimate reason for this is that, typically, one functional molecule can only adopt one “correct” structure to perform one special function (e.g., an enzyme), and thus molecular cooperation is inevitable. While this is particularly true for advanced life with complex functions, it should have already been true for life at its outset with only limited functions, which entailed some sort of primitive cellular form—“protocells”. At the very beginning, the protocells may have even been unable to intervene in the growth of their own membrane, which can be called “pseudo-protocells”. Then, the ability to synthesize membrane components (amphiphiles) may have emerged under selective pressure, leading to “true-protocells”. The emergence of a “chromosome” (with genes linked together)—thus avoiding “gene-loss” during the protocell division, was another key event in the evolution of protocells. Such “unitary-protocells”, containing a central genetic molecule, may have appeared as a milestone—in principle, since then life could evolve endlessly, “gaining” more and more functions by introducing new genes. To synthesize in laboratory these different types of protocells, which stand at the interface between life and non-life, would greatly enhance our understanding on the essence of life. View Full-Text
Keywords: the essence of life; RNA-based protocells; the RNA world; artificial cells; synthetic biology the essence of life; RNA-based protocells; the RNA world; artificial cells; synthetic biology

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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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Ma, W.; Feng, Y. Protocells: At the Interface of Life and Non-Life. Life 2015, 5, 447-458.

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