Stepwise evolution of nonliving to living chemical systems.
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Steps by which a nonliving chemical system could have transformed into a living system are described and discussed, assuming general features of Wchtershuser's chemo-autotrophic surface theory of the origin of life. Environmental species such as CO2 and H2S are proposed to have reacted to form a quasi-steady state metal-bound intermediate (CH3-M) that slowly decayed into waste (CH4). Unpredictable dispersive reactions expanded the system to include surface-bound forms of the citric acid cycle intermediates (oxaloacetate-->citrate). Further reaction yielded an autocatalytic system in which raw materials are converted into the system at exponential rates. Combinatorial dispersive reactions that improved the performance of this system were automatically selected and incorporated into it. Systems evolved critical features of living systems (proteins, membranes, proteins, nucleic acids, etc.) using two related mechanisms called grafting and waste-conversion. Such living systems were transformed from less recognizable types (characterized by autocatalytic spreading, decentralization, poorly defined boundaries, etc.) into more recognizable ones (encapsulated by membranes, controlled by single-molecule genomes, etc.) that self-replicated by a cell division cycle and could evolve by the standard gene-based Darwinian mechanism. The resulting systems are viewed as having an autocatalytic network composed of three linked autocatalytic subreactions.
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