Paper abstract

Autocatalytic sets in a partitioned biochemical network

Joshua I. Smith, Mike Steel and Wim Hordijk

Journal of Systems Chemistry 5:2, 2014.

Background: In previous work, RAF theory has been developed as a tool for making theoretical progress on the origin of life question, providing insight into the structure and occurrence of self-sustaining and collectively autocatalytic sets within catalytic polymer networks. We present here an extension in which there are two ``independent" polymer sets, where catalysis occurs within and between the sets, but there are no reactions combining polymers from both sets. Such an extension reflects the interaction between nucleic acids and peptides observed in modern cells and proposed forms of early life.
Results: We present theoretical work and simulations which suggest that the occurrence of autocatalytic sets is robust to the partitioned structure of the network. We also show that autocatalytic sets remain likely even when the molecules in the system are not polymers, and a low level of inhibition is present. Finally, we present a kinetic extension which assigns a rate to each reaction in the system, and show that identifying autocatalytic sets within such a system is an NP-complete problem.
Conclusions: Recent experimental work has challenged the necessity of an RNA world by suggesting that peptide-nucleic acid interactions occurred early in chemical evolution. The present work indicates that such a peptide-RNA world could support the spontaneous development of autocatalytic sets and is thus a feasible alternative worthy of investigation.