Autocatalysis refers to a chemical reaction that is catalyzed by its own product, similar to the self-reproducing style propagation of living systems.The reproduction of living cells can be regarded as a complex yet well-arranged set of autocatalytic reactions. The study of autocatalysis may help understand and design protocellular systems which are crucial to the origin of life.
Stephen P. Fletcher, University of Oxford, UK, and colleagues have created a model mimicking the self-reproduction of living cells based on physical autocatalysis mediated by micelles. A biphasic thiol-ene reaction provided an irreversible driving force for amphiphilic lipids, aggregating into micelles that were in turn able to catalyze the thiol-ene bond formation.
The researchers have thus provided an interesting example where protocells were made from simple starting materials without any external interference. The model they established suggests the possibility of spontaneous evolution of complex substances and structures under prebiotic conditions.
- Physical autocatalysis driven by a bond-forming thiol–ene reaction,
Andrew J. Bissette, Barbara Odell, Stephen P. Fletcher,
Nat. Commun. 2014, 5, 4607.