Dissipative self-assembly, competition and inhibition in a self-reproducing protocell model†
The bottom-up synthesis of artificial, life-like systems promises to enable the study of emergent properties distinctive to life. Here, we report protocell systems generated from phase-separated building blocks. Vesicle protocells self-reproduce through a phase-transfer mechanism, catalysing their own formation. Dissipative self-assembly by the protocells is achieved when a hydrolysis step to destroy the surfactant is introduced. Competition between micelle and vesicle based replicators for a common feedstock shows that environmental conditions can control what species predominates: under basic conditions vesicles predominate, but in a neutral medium micelles are selected for via a mechanism which inhibits vesicle formation. Finally, the protocells enable orthogonal reactivity by catalysing in situ formation of an amphiphilic organocatalyst, which after incorporation into the vesicle bilayer enantioselectively forms a secondary product.