Evolutionary potential and requirements for minimal protocells

Eörs Szathmáry, Mauro Santos, Chrisantha Fernando

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

55 Citations (Scopus)


Minimal protocell concepts have high intellectual and practical value. Following chemoton theory, developed by Tibor Gánti in 1971, we suggest that a minimal protocell satisfying all life criteria should consist of three subsystems: a metabolic network producing materials for the production of all three subsystems at the expense of the difference between food and waste products, a genetic subsystem based on template polymerization and a boundary subsystem consisting of a bilayer vesicle. All three subsystems are autocatalytic and the system as a whole (called chemoton) is also autocatalytic. The chemoton can undergo spatial reproduction in the right parameter domain. Various infrabiological systems can be constructed from any two subsystems; we review the experimental attempts aimed at such a goal. As the complexity of the realized systems increases, the problem of unwanted side reactions becomes more and more dramatic in non-enzymatic systems. No satisfactory solution to the problem of metabolite channeling is known.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPrebiotic Chemistry
EditorsPeter Walde
Number of pages45
Publication statusPublished - Aug 23 2005

Publication series

NameTopics in Current Chemistry
ISSN (Print)0340-1022


  • Autocatalysis
  • Chemoton
  • Evolution
  • Heredity
  • Infrabiological systems
  • Lipid world
  • Metabolism
  • Minimal life
  • Protocell
  • Unit of evolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)

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  • Cite this

    Szathmáry, E., Santos, M., & Fernando, C. (2005). Evolutionary potential and requirements for minimal protocells. In P. Walde (Ed.), Prebiotic Chemistry (pp. 167-211). (Topics in Current Chemistry; Vol. 259).