Heidelberg University

Protocells and the origin of life

Judith Peters, Université Grenoble Alpes


Compartmentalization of cells is often considered as one of the key points at the origin and for the evolution of life [1]. In fact, life as we know it cannot exist without a border defining the boundaries between the "self" and "not self". In this respect, the study of the simplest forms of prebiotic membranes acquires great interest within the framework of life origin investigations: indeed, the early Earth environment imposes many restrictions, e.g. regarding the molecular abundance and the extreme physico-chemical conditions (high pressure/temperature, etc.) [2].

Thus, a comprehension of the most feasible and stable membrane architectures and conclusions about protocells enhances the current scientific knowledge in many fields, for instance:

1) Filling a major gap in our understanding of how life started on Earth;
2) Giving hints about the right conditions to look for, when studying other planets in the universe;
3) Helping for the design of new highly resistant vesicles as drug carriers that would bear adverse conditions (e.g. high pH).

It will be shown how it is possible to build up possible protocells and -membranes at the origin of life, by which methods they can be studied and which conclusions can be drawn at the present state of research.

[1] Deamer, D.W. The first living systems: a bioenergetics perspective. Microbiol. Mol. Biol. Rev., 1997, 61(2): 239-261.
[2] Daniel, I.; Oger, P.; Winter, R.; Origins of life and biochemistry under high-pressure conditions. Chem. Soc. Rev., 2006, 35(10):858-75.