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Keywords:

  • Origin of life;
  • Metabolism;
  • Liposomes;
  • Protocells;
  • Cellular crowding;
  • LUCA

Abstract

The general framework of the origin of life on Earth is outlined, emphasizing that the so-called prebiotic ‘RNA world’ is as yet on shaky scientific ground, and that one should any way ask the question of the structure of the first protocellular compartments capable of the initial forms of metabolism. This question is the basis of the research project on the minimal cells, containing the minimal and sufficient complexity capable of leading to life. Such research is briefly summarized, highlighting experiments with liposome-based semisynthetic cells which are capable of ribosomal protein synthesis with a very minimal number of enzymes. The most recent finding in this area of research is the unexpected observation that the formation and closure of liposomes in situ acts as an attractor for the solute molecules in solution, bringing about a very high local concentration in some of the liposomes. It is argued that this spontaneous overcrowding, which permits reactions which are not possible in the original dilute solution, might be the origin of cellular metabolism for the origin of life on Earth.