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Journal Articles Artificial Life Year : 2017

On the Relation between Chemical Oscillations and Self-Replication


One proposed scenario for the emergence of biochemical oscillations is that they may have provided the basic mechanism behind cellular self-replication by growth and division. However, alternative scenarios not requiring any chemical oscillation have also been proposed. Each of the various protocell models proposed to support one or another scenario comes with its own set of specific assumptions, which makes it difficult to ascertain whether chemical oscillations are required or not for cellular self-replication. This article compares these two cases within a single whole-cell model framework. This model relies upon a membrane embedding a chemical reaction network (CRN) synthesizing all the cellular constituents, including the membrane, by feeding from an external nutrient. Assuming the osmolarity is kept constant, the system dynamics are governed by a set of nonlinear differential equations coupling the chemical concentrations and the surface-area-to-volume ratio. The resulting asymptotic trajectories are used to determine the cellular shape by minimizing the membrane bending energy (within an approximate predefined family of shapes). While the stationary case can be handled quite generally, the oscillatory one is investigated using a simple oscillating CRN example, which is used to identify features that are expected to hold for any network. It is found that cellular self-replication can be reached with or without chemical oscillations, and that a requirement common to both stationary and oscillatory cases is that a minimum spontaneous curvature of the membrane is required for the cell to divide once its area and volume are both doubled. The oscillatory case can result in a greater variety of cellular shape trajectories but raises additional constraints for cellular division and self-replication: (i) the ratio of doubling time to oscillation period should be an integer, and (ii) if the oscillation amplitude is sufficiently high, then the spontaneous curvature must be below a maximum value to avoid early division before the end of the cycle. Because of these additional stringent constraints, it is likely that early protocells did not rely upon chemical oscillations. Biochemical oscillations typical of modern evolved cells may have emerged later through evolution for other reasons (e.g., metabolic advantage) and must have required additional feedback mechanisms for such a self-replicating system to be robust against even slight environmental variations (e.g., temperature fluctuations).

Dates and versions

hal-01948090 , version 1 (07-12-2018)



Erwan Bigan, Pierre Plateau. On the Relation between Chemical Oscillations and Self-Replication. Artificial Life, 2017, 23 (4), pp.453-480. ⟨10.1162/ARTL_a_00241⟩. ⟨hal-01948090⟩
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