Artificial chemistry as a method to find the connection between chemical evolution and the origin of life
Collaborators: José Pereira, ICBAS-Instituto de Ciências Biomédicas de Abel Salazar, Porto, Portugal and Ricardo Gama, Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade do Porto, Portugal
Life was still not found outside Earth and therefore we still cannot make any kind of empirical generalization about the main features a chemistry must have to evolve into life or about the necessary environmental conditions. We are also still far from obtaining a life form in the laboratory beginning with relatively small carbon compounds like aminoacids, monosaccharides and fatty acids. Simulation is a parallel and more practical method to explore the path to life. Many hypotheses about chemical evolution and life can be tested with a computer if the underlying model or formal system can be transposed to a program. Simulating a whole planetary environment is, of course, out of the question and so the problem must be addressed in small parts. The "small" question we ask is then: "Is it possible to design an artificial chemistry that is capable to evolve an artificial life instance?".
Life on Earth is carbon based, presenting four major features: acid-base reactions (polymerization), redox reactions (energy), molecular recognition(specificity) and catalysis. An artificial chemistry tool is being developed which is based on this model.
A "well stirred reactor" dynamic is applied to a large set of agents, equivalent to atoms, with different types of interaction abilities. These atoms can react to give molecules defined in a 2D molecular plane. Different initial conditions are now being tested and the evolution of the system is being analysed to find metabolic pathways.