Motility at the origin of life: Its characterization and a model

11 Nov 2013  ·  Tom Froese, Nathaniel Virgo, Takashi Ikegami ·

Due to recent advances in synthetic biology and artificial life, the origin of life is currently a hot topic of research. We review the literature and argue that the two traditionally competing "replicator-first" and "metabolism-first" approaches are merging into one integrated theory of individuation and evolution. We contribute to the maturation of this more inclusive approach by highlighting some problematic assumptions that still lead to an impoverished conception of the phenomenon of life. In particular, we argue that the new consensus has so far failed to consider the relevance of intermediate timescales. We propose that an adequate theory of life must account for the fact that all living beings are situated in at least four distinct timescales, which are typically associated with metabolism, motility, development, and evolution. On this view, self-movement, adaptive behavior and morphological changes could have already been present at the origin of life. In order to illustrate this possibility we analyze a minimal model of life-like phenomena, namely of precarious, individuated, dissipative structures that can be found in simple reaction-diffusion systems. Based on our analysis we suggest that processes in intermediate timescales could have already been operative in prebiotic systems. They may have facilitated and constrained changes occurring in the faster- and slower-paced timescales of chemical self-individuation and evolution by natural selection, respectively.

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