Viability Conditions for a Compartmentalized Protometabolic System: A Semi-Empirical Approach

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In this work we attempt to find out the extent to which realistic prebiotic compartments, such as fatty acid vesicles, would constrain the chemical network dynamics that could have sustained a minimal form of metabolism. We combine experimental and simulation results to establish the conditions under which a reaction network with a catalytically closed organization (more specifically, an (M,R)-system) would overcome the potential problem of self-suffocation that arises from the limited accessibility of nutrients to its internal reaction domain. The elationship between the permeability of the membrane, the lifetime of the key catalysts and their efficiency (reaction rate enhancement) turns out to be critical. In particular, we show how permeability values constrain the characteristic time scale of the bounded protometabolic processes. From this concrete and illustrative example we finally extend the discussion to a wider evolutionary context.