Mark Bedau, John McCaskill, Norman Packard, Steen Rasmussen

Paper #: 06-12-049

This paper explores the ability of molecular evolution to take control of collective physical phases, making the first decisive step from independent replicators towards cell-like collective structures. We develop a physical model of replicating combinatorial molecules in a ternary fluid of hydrocarbons, amphiphiles, and water. Such systems are being studied experimentally in various labs to approach the synthesis of artificial cells, and they are also relevant to the origin of cellular life. The model represents amphiphiles by spins on a lattice (with Ising coupling in the simplest case), coupled to replicating molecules that may diffuse on the lattice, and react with each other. The presence of the replicating molecules locally modulates the phases of the complex fluid, and the physical replication process and/or mobility of the replicating molecules is influenced by the local amphiphilic configuration through an energetic coupling. Consequently, the replicators can potentially modify their environment to enhance their own replication. Through this coupling, the system can associate hereditary properties, and the potential for autonomous evolution, to self-assembling mesoscale structures in the complex fluid. This opens a route to analyzing the evolution of artificial cells. The models are studied using Monte Carlo simulation, and demonstrate the evolution of phase control. We achieve a unified combinatorial framework for the description of isotropic families of spin-lattice models of complex phases, opening up the physical study of their evolution.