We show that self-replication of a chemical system encapsulated within a membrane growing from within is possible without any explicit feature such as autocatalysis or metabolic closure, and without the need for their emergence through complexity. We use a protocell model relying upon random conservative chemical reaction networks with arbitrary stoichiometry, and we investigate the protocell's capability for self-replication, for various numbers of reactions in the network. We elucidate the underlying mechanisms in terms of simple minimal conditions pertaining only to the topology of the embedded chemical reaction network. A necessary condition is that each moiety must be fed, and a sufficient condition is that each siphon is fed. Although these minimal conditions are purely topological, by further endowing conservative chemical reaction networks with thermodynamically consistent kinetics, we show that the growth rate tends to increase on increasing the Gibbs energy per unit molecular weight of the nutrient and on decreasing that of the membrane precursor.

Supplementary data

You do not currently have access to this content.