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Nonequilibrium abundances for the building blocks of life

Physical Review E 99(5)
Stopnitzky, E.Still, S. Department of Physics and Astronomy,
University of Hawai'i at Mānoa,
Honolulu, Hawai'i, USA

Department of Information and Computer Sciences,
University of Hawai'i at Mānoa,
Honolulu, Hawai'i, USA
2019 Biology, Physics

The difficulty of obtaining appreciable quantities of biologically important molecules in thermodynamic equilibrium has long been identified as an obstacle to life's emergence, and determining the specific nonequilibrium conditions that might have given rise to life is challenging. To address these issues, we investigate how the concentrations of life's building blocks change as a function of the distance from equilibrium on average, in two example settings: (i) the synthesis of heavy amino acids and (ii) their polymerization into peptides.

We find that relative concentrations of the heaviest amino acids can be boosted by four orders of magnitude, and concentrations of the longest peptide chains can be increased by hundreds of orders of magnitude. The average nonequilibrium distribution does not depend on the details of how the system was driven from equilibrium, indicating that environments might not have to be fine-tuned to support life.

The article was published in: Physical Review E 99(5): 052101.

Full article

This work was supported (in part) by the Fetzer Franklin Fund of the John E. Fetzer Memorial Trust.