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A Sourcebook for the Worldwide Discovery of a Creative Organic Universe
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III. Ecosmos: A Revolutionary Fertile, Habitable, Solar-Bioplanet, Incubator Lifescape

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

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)

Sakref, Yann and Olivier Rivoire.. Design principles, growth laws, and competition of minimal autocatalysts. arXiv:2403.19047. This 2024 entry by a CNRS, ESPCI, and University of Paris research team (visit OR website for more papers) continues to advance and certify understandings of nature’s pervasive biochemical reactions engage in self-making processes. See also Design of a minimal catalyst using colloidal particles with programmable interactions by Maitane Munoz-Basagoiti, O. Rivoire, et al in Soft Matter (May 2023) for companion work. By these many current entries here and in Origin of Life an autocatalytic cosmopoietic milieu that makes itself is being found and verified.

The difficulty of designing autocatalysts that grow exponentially in the absence of enzymes, external drives or internal mechanisms constrains scenarios for the emergence of evolution in chemical and physical systems. Here, we analyze these difficulties by way of a simple, dimeric molecule that duplicates by templated ligation such that an autocatalyst can achieve exponential growth autonomously. We thus are able to develop a theoretical framework based on kinetic barrier diagrams. Our results provide a blueprint for elementary autocatalysts exhibiting a form of natural selection, whether on a molecular or colloidal scale. (Abstract)

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)

Unterberger, Jeremie and Philippe Nghe. Stoechiometric and Dynamical Autocatalysis for Diluted Chemical Reaction Networks. arXiv:2109.01130. We cite this entry by University of Lorraine and University of Paris chemists as an example of novel appreciations of the widespread, diverse presence and importance of natural catalytic self-creativity. In regard, one might well view a human functional identity as “ecosmic catalysts” as we may begin to intentionally take up and continue life’s future genesis.

Autocatalysis in a variety of active forms is being found to underlie the ability of chemical and biochemical systems to replicate. Here we study a topological condition for autocatalysis, namely: restricting the reaction network to highly diluted species, and assume a strongly connected component with at least one reaction with multiple products. We find this condition to be necessary and sufficient for stoechiometric autocatalysis. (Abstract excerpt)

Our main result in a nutshell: The chemical mechanism that epitomizes the ability of living systems to reproduce themselves is autocatalysis, namely, catalysis brought about by one of the products of the reactions. Autocatalysis must have been present from the early stages of the origin of life, from primitive forms of metabolism to autocatalytic sets based on the first catalytic biopolymers and the emergence of sustained template-based replication of nucleic acids. Diverse artificial autocatalytic systems have been implemented in the laboratory, and remnants of ancestral autocatalytic networks may be found in extant metabolic network. (1)

Vinicius, Lucio. Modular Evolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Reviewed much more in Systems Evolution, a University of Cambridge, Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies, postdoctoral fellow joins the overdue project to revise quite inadequate theories of life’s sequential rise from microbe to artifice.

Finally, it is impossible to ignore an apparent analogy between the transition to human history and the origin of life itself. As seen earlier, life can be equated with the origin of the DNA World, which established a distinction between the first exclusive information carrier (DNA) and the first exclusively functional entities (proteins). Similarly to the autocatalytic ribozymes that transferred its information roles to DNA and functional roles to proteins in the DNA World, thus becoming the mediator and regulator between the two new molecular types, historical humans seem to have evolved into mediators between cultural information predominantly stored in extended information carriers on the one hand, and the production of cultural extended phenotypes on the other: those two processes could be seen as ‘education’ and ‘work’ respectively. (205)

Virgo, Nathaniel. The Necessity of Extended Autopoiesis. Adaptive Behavior. Online April 16, 2019. Amongst an ongoing discussion of how living organisms continue to vitalize and compose themselves, an Earth-Life Science Institute, Tokyo research professor defends a wider view, which the Abstract notes, which expands beyond just a bodily locus. The target article for this commentary is Are Living Beings Extended Autopoietic Systems? by Mario Villalobos and Pablo Razeto-Barry (online January).

The theory of autopoiesis holds that an organism can be defined as a network of processes. However, an organism also has a physical body. The relationship between these two things—network and body—has been raised in this issue of Adaptive Behaviour, with reference to an extended interpretation of autopoiesis. This perspective holds that the network and the body are distinct things, and that the network should be thought of as extending beyond the boundaries of the body. The relationship between body and network is subtle, and I revisit it here from the extended perspective. I conclude that from an organism = network perspective, the body is a biological solution to the problem of maintaining both the distinctness of an organism, separate from but engaged with its environment and other organisms, and its distinctiveness as a particular individual. (Abstract)

Virgo, Nathaniel, et al. Complex Autocatalysis in Simple Chemistries. Artificial Life. 22/2, 2016. Virgo, and Takashi Ikegami, University of Tokyo, and Simon McGregor, University of Sussex seem to be encountering a fertile material cosmos with a propensity to develop and organize itself into biomolecules innately fit for life’s evolution. By some license, might we imagine an Autocatalytic Cosmos, whereof we peoples might aspire to be Cosmic Catalysts so as to intentionally carry forth?

Life on Earth must originally have arisen from abiotic chemistry. Since the details of this chemistry are unknown, we wish to understand, in general, which types of chemistry can lead to complex, lifelike behavior. Here we show that even very simple chemistries in the thermodynamically reversible regime can self-organize to form complex autocatalytic cycles, with the catalytic effects emerging from the network structure. We demonstrate this with a very simple but thermodynamically reasonable artificial chemistry model. By suppressing the direct reaction from reactants to products, we obtain the simplest kind of autocatalytic cycle, resulting in exponential growth. When these simple first-order cycles are prevented from forming, the system achieves superexponential growth through more complex, higher-order autocatalytic cycles. This leads to nonlinear phenomena such as oscillations and bistability, the latter of which is of particular interest regarding the origins of life. (Abstract)

Wagner, Nathaniel, et al. Open Prebiotic Environments Drive Emergent Phenomena and Complex Behavior. Life. 9/2, 2019. Ben-Gurion University, Centro de Astrobiologia, Madrid, and Williams College, MA researchers including Gonen Ashkenasy advance understandings of how intrinsic network topologies played a prime generative role to faciliatate the comings together of biomolecules on their way to evolution and us.

We have been studying simple prebiotic catalytic replicating networks as prototypes for modeling replication, complexification and Systems Chemistry. While living systems are always open and function far from equilibrium, these prebiotic networks may be open or closed, dynamic or static, divergent or convergent to a steady state. In this paper we review the properties of simple replicating networks, and show, via four working models, how even though closed systems exhibit a wide range of emergent phenomena, many of the more interesting phenomena leading to complexification and emergence indeed require open systems. (Abstract)

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