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First published 20 July 2015

A New View of Protocell Metabolism

Ben Shirt-Ediss, Ricard Solé, and Kepa Ruiz-Mirazo


Chemical reaction networks can exhibit interesting non-linear dynamics in reaction contexts with variable solvent volume (Pawłowski and Zielenkiewicz, 2004; Lizana et al., 2008), although this possibility has received little attention in the literature. Lipid vesicles, the standard chassis for many prebiotic protocell models, are compartments which enclose a water pool of variable volume. The semi-permeable nature of the lipid bilayer membrane facilitates, by the mechanism of osmosis, a flow of water entering or leaving the internal pool of the vesicle whenever there is a disequilibrium in the total solute concentration inside and outside (Oglecka et al., 2012). Therefore, the volume of a vesicle is not only variable, but is also determined as a function of the reaction dynamics ongoing inside the vesicle.