Metabolism and Motility in Prebiotic Structures


Wednesday, April 20, 2011, 4:00pm


Geo Museum, 24 Oxford Street, Haller Hall, Rm. 102, Cambridge, MA

Martin Hanczyc (University of Southern Denmark)

Easily accessible, primitive chemical structures produced by self-assembly of hydrophobic substances into oil droplets may result in self-moving agents able to sense their environment and move to avoid equilibrium. These structures would constitute very primitive examples of life on Earth, even more primitive than simple bilayer vesicle structures. A few examples of simple chemical systems are presented that self-organize to produce oil droplets capable of movement, environment remodeling, and primitive chemotaxis. These chemical agents are powered by an internal chemical reaction based on the hydrolysis of an oleic anhydride precursor or on the hydrolysis of HCN polymer, a plausible prebiotic chemistry. Results are presented on both the behavior of such droplets and the surface-active properties of HCN polymer products. Such motile agents would be capable of finding resources while escaping equilibrium and sustaining themselves through an internal metabolism, thus providing a working chemical model for a possible origin of life.

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