It has long been suggested that the laws of thermodynamics may specify thresholds for the origin of life, in terms of minimal free energy fluxes needed to perform basic life-like functions such as self-maintenance and self-replication. Such thresholds have yet to be derived, however, in large part because conventional thermodynamics is restricted to systems that are in equilibrium, macroscopic in scale, and that do not exchange information with their environments. On the other hand, protobiological systems (minimal systems that lay at the beginning of life) were likely far-from-equilibrium, nanoscale, and exchanged information (e.g. via simple mechanisms of adaptive response such as chemotaxis).
Recent times, however, have witnessed a revolution in nonequilibrium thermodynamics, which has produced far-reaching results concerning systems that are far-from-equilibrium, nanoscale, and may exchange information. These results are currently finding various applications in the study of biophysics of modern organisms. While the tools of nonequilibrium thermodynamics are well-suited for analyzing protobiological systems, they have yet to be applied in origin of life research. Instead, most existing models of protobiological systems are highly abstracted and ignore underlying thermodynamics. In addition, existing research in the field has paid very little attention to the role of information exchanges in early life.
This project will address these gaps, by using techniques from modern nonequilibrium thermodynamics to study the origin of life. Specifically, it will investigate thermodynamic tradeoffs involved in three essential protobiological functions (self-maintenance, self-replication, and Darwinian evolution), including in systems that exchange information with their environment. This project will shed light on fundamental thermodynamic thresholds, which will have important implications for our theoretical understanding of the origin of life.
Fields of science
- HORIZON.1.2 - Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) Main Programme