Special Issue "Systems Protobiology: Origin of Life by Mutually Catalytic Networks"
A special issue of Life (ISSN 2075-1729).
Deadline for manuscript submissions: 31 July 2019
NASA’s definition of minimal life asserts that “Life is a self-sustaining chemical system capable of Darwinian evolution”. A majority opinion contends that self-sustaining and replicating capacities can only be attained via templating biopolymers such as RNA, which copy sequence information. An alternative upcoming approach claims that life began with mutually-catalytic networks, endowed with self-sustaining and reproduction capabilities, i.e. capable of reproducing their network structure and composition. The first school (“RNA first”) asserts that RNA is necessary even for a most rudimentary evolutionary process. The second (identified with “metabolism first”) claims that, under some circumstances, metabolism-like networks can evolve, and that RNA likely emerged as a product of lengthy evolution. RNA first implies that a single type of molecule with high internal complexity could jump-start life, later recruiting metabolism and enclosure. Metabolism first takes the stand that life was a multi-component network of diverse interacting molecules right from the beginning. In published research it is shown that such networks constitute not only catalysis-based metabolism, but also assume compartment and replication traits. This scenario is obviously much more life-like, and is analyzable by tools of the newly emerging disciplines of Systems Biology and Systems Chemistry.
A cornerstone of the proposed special issue is “Systems Protobiology”, indicating a merger between Systems Sciences and research that strives to define and understand early protocellular life forms. As such, papers in this Special Issue are expected to maintain standards of Systems Sciences, including rigorous chemical definitions, kinetic formalisms and adherence to irreversible thermodynamics directives, as befits a life-like dynamic network away from equilibrium. One of the main goals of Systems Protobiology is demonstrating replication/reproduction and evolvability that does not necessarily depend on long informational polymers. We encourage exploring the notion that RNA and proteins are products of evolution, implying that understanding the abiogenesis of RNA is less critical. Delineating bottom-up paths to life-like processes such as non-enzymatic catalysis, photosynthesis, the emergence of high-energy compounds, as well as membrane generation, dynamics and transport, appear highly relevant. So is the emergence of life-like oligomers of any kind, with templating being one of many ways for network molecules to interact with each other. Experimental approaches addressing mutually catalytic networks are invited, as are pertinent computer analyses and simulations, including the potential role of powerful future computing in deciphering life’s origin.
Prof. Doron Lancet
Manuscript Submission Information
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- mutually catalytic networks
- autocatalytic sets
- functional membranes
- kinetic analyses
- away from equilibrium
- computer simulations
The below list represents only planned manuscripts. Some of these manuscripts have not been received by the Editorial Office yet. Papers submitted to MDPI journals are subject to peer-review.
Tentative title: Population dynamics of autocatalytic sets in a compartmentalized spatial world
Authors: WIm Hordijk, Jonathan Naylor, Natalio Krasnogor, and Harold Fellermann
Affiliations: Institute for Advanced Study, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands (WH) School of Computing, Newcastle University, UK (JN, NK, and HF)
Type of paper: Review
Tentative title: Autocatalytic networks at the basis of life's origin and organization
Authors: Wim Hordijk & Mike Steel
Affiliations: Institute for Advanced Studies, Amsterdam (WH); Biomathematics Research Centre, University of Canterbury, NZ (MS)
Abstract: Life is more than the sum of its constituent molecules. Living systems depend on a particular chemical organization, i.e., the ways in which its constituent molecules interact and cooperate with each other. Several abstract models of minimal life, based on this idea of chemical organization, and also in the context of the origin of life, were developed independently already in the 60s and 70s. These models include hypercycles, autopoietic systems, chemotons, (M,R)-systems, and autocatalytic sets. Here we briefly compare these various models, and then focus more specifically on the concept of autocatalytic sets and its mathematical formalization, RAF theory. We elaborate on the suggestion that simple inorganic molecules like metals and minerals may have been the earliest catalysts, and how RAF theory may also be applied to systems beyond chemistry, such as ecology, economics, and cognition.