Evolutionary potential and requirements for minimal protocells

Eörs Szathmáry, Mauro Santos, Chrisantha Fernando

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

60 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
Pages (from-to)167-211
JournalTopics in Current Chemistry
Publication statusPublished - 23 Aug 2005


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


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