Quenching to fix metastable states in models of prebiotic chemistry

Qianyi Sheng, Ben Intoy, J. W. Halley

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For prebiotic chemistry to succeed in producing a starting metastable, autocatalytic and reproducing system subject to evolutionary selection it must satisfy at least two apparently contradictory requirements: Because such systems are rare, a search among vast numbers of molecular combinations must take place naturally, requiring rapid rearrangement and breaking of covalent bonds. But once a relevant system is found, such rapid disruption and rearrangement would be very likely to destroy the system before much evolution could take place. In this paper we explore the possibility, using a model developed previously, that the search process could occur under different environmental conditions than the subsequent fixation and growth of a lifelike chemical system. We use the example of a rapid change in temperature to illustrate the effect and refer to the rapid change as a "quench"borrowing terminology from study of the physics and chemistry of glass formation. The model study shows that interrupting a high-Temperature nonequilibrium state with a rapid quench to lower temperatures can substantially increase the probability of producing a chemical state with lifelike characteristics of nonequilibrium metastability, internal dynamics and exponential population growth in time. Previously published data on the length distributions of proteomes of prokaryotes may be consistent with such an idea and suggest a prebiotic high-Temperature "search"phase near the boiling point of water. A rapid change in pH could have a similar effect. We discuss possible scenarios on early Earth which might have allowed frequent quenches of the sort considered here to have occurred. The models show a strong dependence of the effect on the number of chemical monomers available for bond formation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number062412
JournalPhysical Review E
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 10 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Work was supported by NASA Grant No. NNX14AQ05G, by the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute, and by the Open Science Grid.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 American Physical Society.

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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