Paper abstract

Autocatalytic sets extended: Dynamics, inhibition, and a generalization

Wim Hordijk and Mike Steel

Journal of Systems Chemistry 3:5, 2012.

Background: Autocatalytic sets are often considered a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for the origin and early evolution of life. Although the idea of autocatalytic sets was already conceived of many years ago, only recently have they gained more interest, following advances in creating them experimentally in the laboratory. In our own work, we have studied autocatalytic sets extensively from a computational and theoretical point of view.
Results: We present results from an initial study of the dynamics of self-sustaining autocatalytic sets (RAFs). In particular, simulations of molecular flow on autocatalytic sets are performed, to illustrate the kinds of dynamics that can occur. Next, we present an extension of our (previously introduced) algorithm for finding autocatalytic sets in general reaction networks, which can also handle inhibition. We show that in this case detecting autocatalytic sets is fixed parameter tractable. Finally, we formulate a generalized version of the algorithm that can also be applied outside the context of chemistry and origin of life, which we illustrate with a toy example from economics.
Conclusions: Having shown theoretically (in previous work) that autocatalytic sets are highly likely to exist, we conclude here that also in terms of dynamics such sets are viable and outcompete non-autocatalytic sets. Furthermore, our dynamical results confirm arguments made earlier about how autocatalytic subsets can enable their own growth or give rise to other such subsets coming into existence. Finally, our algorithmic extension and generalization show that more realistic scenarios (e.g., including inhibition) can also be dealt with within our framework, and that it can even be applied to areas outside of chemistry, such as economics.