Abstract

The encapsulation of information-bearing macromolecules inside protocells is a critical step in scenarios for the origins of life on the Earth as well as for the construction of artificial living systems. For these protocells to emulate life, they must be able to transmit genetic information to other cells. We have used a water-in-oil emulsion system to simulate the compartmentalization of catalytic RNA molecules. By exploiting RNA-directed recombination reactions previously developed in our laboratory, including a ribozyme self-assembly pathway, we demonstrate that it is possible for information to be exchanged among protocells. This can happen either indirectly by the passage of divalent cations through the inter-protocellular medium (oil), or by the direct interaction of two or more protocells that allows RNA molecules to be exchanged. The degree of agitation affects the ability of such exchange. The consequences of these results include the implications that prototypical living systems can transmit information among compartments, and that the environment can regulate the extent of this crosstalk.

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