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A Sourcebook for the Worldwide Discovery of a Creative Organic Universe
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Genesis Vision
Learning Planet
Organic Universe
Earth Life Emerge
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III. Ecosmos: A Revolutionary Fertile, Habitable, Solar-Bioplanet Incubator Lifescape

1. Ecosmopoiesis: An Autocatalytic, Bootstrap Self-Made UniVerse

Nghe, Philippe, et al. Prebiotic Network Evolution. Molecular BioSystems. 11/3206, 2015. Reviewed in Origin of Life, in a Royal Society of Chemistry journal, after decades of origin of life studies to identify many relevant components, this premier paper with eight authors including Stuart Kauffman, Sara Walker, Wim Hordijk, and Niles Lehman can now aver an equally important presence of interconnective dynamics which altogether initiate the cellular ascent of organisms. “Collective autocatalytic sets” as an independent source prior to biochemistry, composed of characteristic “entity nodes and relational edges,” are seen to empower a “self-sustaining” vital organization.

Palyi, Gyula, et al, eds. Advances in Asymmetric Autocatalysis. Cambridge, MA: Academic Press, 2017. University of Modena, Italy and University of Pannonia, Hungary editors gather chapters about life’s deep propensity to catalyze, activate, organize itself by way of intrinsic, recurrent drives, structures and processes all the way from universe to us. A typical chapter is The Importance of Parachirality in Life Science by Noriko Fujii, et al.

Asymmetric autocatalysis is a chemical reaction which leads from achiral starting materials to chiral products, and in which the product accelerates its own formation reaction (conventional catalysis) and promotes the prevalence of its own chiral configuration (asymmetric induction). The book contains expert-contributed chapters that describe the most exciting recent developments in the field of the Soai reaction and in related topics, ranging from mechanistic studies and theoretical research, to practical problems in chiral syntheses and products.

Peng, Zhen, et al. An Ecological Framework for the Analysis of Prebiotic Chemical Reaction Networks. Journal of Theoretical Biology. Vol. 507, 2020. Wisconsin Institute for Discovery investigators including David Baum describe detailed experimental results that advance the vital role played by primordial autocatalytic chemicals and reactions so that biocomplex systems could come together on their way to life’s evolutionary development. See also Universal Motifs and the Diversity of Autocatalytic Systems by Alex Blokhuis, et al in PNAS (41/25230, 2020) for another strong endorsement.

It is becoming widely accepted that very early in life’s origin, even before the emergence of genetic encoding, reaction networks of diverse chemicals might have manifested key properties of life, namely self-propagation and adaptive evolution. To explore this, we study the dynamics of chemical reaction networks within the framework of chemical ecosystem ecology. We show that seeding an autocatalytic cycle with tiny amounts of its member chemicals results in logistic growth of all member chemicals in the cycle. This finding leads to an instructive analogy between an autocatalytic cycle and a biological species. We extend this finding to show that pairs of autocatalytic cycles can exhibit competitive, predator-prey, or mutualistic associations just like biological species. The basic model developed here helps explain the onset of adaptive evolution in prebiotic chemical reaction networks. (Abstract excerpt)

Peng, Zhen, et al. The Hierarchical Organization of Autocatalytic Reaction Networks and its Relevance to the Origin of Life. PLOS Computational Biology.. September, 2922. University of Wisconsin system biologists develop and advance the latest reasons why, long ago, some manner of innate spontaneity must have existed. Into this decade, it is more evident that deep, natural tendencies to initiate and propel living systems occur on their own, beyond any chance occasion. Our global scale as a result can turn and proclaim an autopoietic self-made activation. Are we now participant persons meant to take up a role of ecosmic catalysts going forward?

Prior work on abiogenesis, the emergence of life from non-life, suggests that it requires chemical reaction networks that contain self-amplifying motifs, namely, autocatalytic cores. However, little is known about how the presence of multiple autocatalytic cores might allow for the gradual accretion of complexity on the path to life. Here we conceive a seed-dependent autocatalytic system (SDAS) as a subnetwork that can autocatalytically maintain itself. We develop new algorithms for detecting SDASs in chemical reaction databases and parallels between multi-SDAS networks and biological ecosystems. Our work provides computational tools to study large chemical/biochemical reaction networks and suggests new approaches to studying abiogenesis in the lab. (Excerpt)

The core puzzle of abiogenesis is, given a flux of energy and water, carbon dioxide, minerals, what system could arise by itself with the capacity of self-propagation complexification. As a result, any successful theory of abiogenesis needs to specify a system, a “first evolver,” that is endowed with the capacity to evolve adaptively and accrete complexity yet is simple enough to have a reasonable probability of arising spontaneously on the prebiotic Earth. Whatever the nature of the first evolver, it must have been able to self-propagate because such a facility is required for evolution. As a result, for the first evolver to exhibit two core attributes of life, namely self-maintenance and the capacity to evolve [16], it must have been autocatalytic. (2)

Peng, Zhen, et al. What Wilhelm Ostwald meant by “Autokatalyse” and its Significance to Origins of Life Research. BioEssays. 44/9, 2022. ZP, Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, Klaus Paschek, MPI Astronomy, and Joana Xavier. University College London consider initial, century old views of how a biocreative nature seems to avail and draw upon endemic self-making processes and circuits as life evolves on its development and metabolic course. See also Translation of a 1971 Paper by Otto Rossler and a Commentary by Walter Fontana and Phillpp Honegger. At arXiv:2209.04731 for a similar contribution to 2020s realizations of intrinsic cocreative vitality.

A closer look at Wilhelm Ostwald's articles reveals that he proposed to view reactants not just as products, but as autocatalysts. A process activated by its own results is what Ostwald meant by “Autokatalyse.” With regard to origins-of-life research, autocatalysis provides an abiotic mechanism that yields reproduction-like dynamics. Here, we review key publications by Ostwald and the concept expansive autocatalysis. Then we discuss a current revival by way candidate processes underlying the origins of life, and an update of autocatalytic complex metabolic reaction networks. (Abstract)

Friedrich Wilhelm Ostwald (1853 – 1932) was a Baltic German chemist and philosopher. He is credited as a founder of the field of physical chemistry. He received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1909 for contributions to catalysis, chemical equilibria and reaction velocities. (Wikipedia)

Piotto, Stefano, et al. Plausible Emergence of Autocatalytic Cycles under Prebiotic Conditions. Life. Online April 4, 2019. For a special collection about The Origin and Early Evolution of Life, University of Salerno biochemists deftly discern the evident presence of such self-initiating bootstrap processes which served to get vitality and development on its long ascent to our present retro-quantification.

The emergence of life in a prebiotic world is an enormous scientific question of paramount philosophical importance. Even when life (in any sense we can define it) can be observed and replicated in the laboratory, it is only an indication of one possible pathway for life emergence, and is by no means be a demonstration of how life really emerged. The best we can hope for is to indicate plausible chemical–physical conditions and mechanisms that might lead to self-organizing and autopoietic systems. Here we present a stochastic simulation, based on chemical reactions already observed in prebiotic environments, that might help in the design of new experiments. We will show how the definition of simple rules for the synthesis of random peptides may lead to the appearance of networks of autocatalytic cycles and the emergence of memory. (Abstract)

Pratt, Andrew. Prebiological Evolution and the Metabolic Origins of Life. Artificial Life. 17/3, 2011. See also Origin of Life, in this extensive paper, a University of Canterbury biochemist cites Tibor Ganti’s chemoton to propose an early rudimentary phase driven by complex, self-organizing, autocatalytic networks. From this basis, key components such as phosphates, iron and sulfur and the “RNA-first” approach can be linked through a sorting out of when each chemical came into play.

Preiner, Martina, et al. Catalysts, Autocatalysis and the Origin of Metabolism. Interface Focus. October, 2019. In an 80th birthday festschrift for the NASA astrobiologist Michael Russell, Heinrich Heine University, Dusseldorf and University College London bioscientists including John F. Allen describe the presence and contribution of these innate self-activating, combining, and emergent processes as they bring life to conducive matter. Circa autumn 2019, one could surmise that an animate ecosmos is engaged in some manner of auto-creative, autopoietic, self-making enterprise. How then might we sapient beings aspire to be the selves, aka cosmic catalysts, to take up and continue?

If life on Earth started out in geochemical environments like hydrothermal vents, then it started from gases like CO2, N2 and H2. Anaerobic autotrophs still live from these gases today, and inhabit the Earth's crust. In the search for connections between abiotic processes in ancient geological systems and in biotic systems, it becomes evident that chemical activation (catalysis) of these gasses and a constant source of energy are key aspects. The H2–CO2 redox reaction provides a constant source of energy and anabolic inputs, because the equilibrium lies on the side of reduced carbon compounds. Identifying geochemical catalysts that en route to nitrogenous organic compounds and autocatalytic networks will be an important step towards understanding prebiotic chemistry. (Abstract)

Pross, Addy. The Driving Force for Life’s Emergence: Kinetic and Thermodynamic Considerations. Journal of Theoretical Biology. 220/3, 2003. From the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, a contribution to the growing effort to explain the regnant presence of complex life in the face of a universe supposedly expending energy as it inevitably runs down. In this case, a chemist proposes to view life, following the work of Manfred Eigen, as a kinetic, dynamic phenomenon which is driven by the propensity to replicate. See also an update article "How Can a Chemical System Act Purposefully?" in the Journal of Physical Organic Chemistry (21/7-8, 2008).

The kinetic power of autocatalysis effectively transcends thermodynamics, not through negation of the Second Law, but by steering a kinetically driven and directed autocatalytic pathway that at all times remains fully consistent with the Second Law. (400)

Radillo-Ochoa, Diego, et al. Bifurcation in Cellular Evolution. Physica A. Vol. 615, 2023. As the quotes explain, this paper in a 20th century Physics journal by Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de Colima, Spain biotheorists identifies one more way to by which to validate a pervasive biochemical reactive catalysis in vivifying effect.

Aspects of cell metabolism are modeled by differential equations which describe the change of intracellular chemical concentrations. There is a correspondence between this dynamical system and a complex network which can evolve by the iterative addition of edges. In this work it is shown that modifications to a graph topology by gradual mutations can form a connected a percolation--like phase transition. This activity is mapped into a bifurcation in the intracellular dynamics as a shortcut in biological evolution, so a probable metabolic state switches from cellular stagnation to exponential growth. (Abstract)

The drastic change in cellular metabolism by minor modifications makes the cell resistant to external influences, enables it to reach the emergence of complex small–world and hierarchical structures as auto–catalytic cycles and produce several biological responses individually or as a collective behavior. Since there would be many paths leading toward the metabolic bifurcation, then the new phenotype could be viewed as an inevitable outcome of evolution. (9, edits)

Sherman, Jeremy and Terrence Deacon. Teleology for the Perplexed. Zygon. 42/4, 2007. How do ‘purposive relationships’ emerge out of the material universe? Because a thermodynamic gradient impels matter via autocatalytic self-organization into an original, transitional autocell. This evolutionary process then proceeds on to ‘second and third emergences’ of increasingly personal complex sentience. After many arcane terms necessary to express these novel concepts, in translation the authors seem to articulate an inherently organic and developmental cosmos. We also post this article to note Deacon’s website: www.teleodynamics.com where his extensive slide show Emergent Dynamics: A Path from Matter to Mattering can be viewed.

Although simple, autocells are sufficiently complex molecular systems to illustrate how simple teleological processes can emerge spontaneously from self-organizing processes. The key feature is not any single type of molecule or process so much as the synergistic relationship between processes that reciprocally support one another’s persistence. (887) In other words, the domain of meaning and purpose is not alien to the domain of physics and chemistry. There is no gulf of incompatibility separating them. The logical fabric of the universe is the willing midwife to the spontaneous birth of telos. (896) Self-organization processes are emergent from thermodynamic processes and living processes are emergent from self-organizing processes. (Deacon Slide 92)

Ulanowicz, Robert. The Balance Between Adaptability and Adaptation. BioSystems. 64/1-4, 2002. The philosophical ecologist offers an earlier contribution toward the discovery of an self-iterating, self-developing universe.

It should be noted, however, that Darwinian selection is always exerted from outside the system and that it can work directly only against a feature and can favor others only in indirect ways. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, power law distributions seem more appropriate for describing how ecosystem flows are apportioned….The positive feedback or autocatalytic-like agency inherent in self-organization theory is capable of exerting selection that directly favors the growth of participating elements and acts internal to the system itself. (21)

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