Self-selection of dissipative assemblies driven by primitive chemical reaction networks
Life is a dissipative nonequilibrium structure that requires constant consumption of energy to sustain itself. How such an unstable state could have selected from an abiotic pool of molecules remains a mystery. Here we show that liquid phase-separation offers a mechanism for the selection of dissipative products from a library of reacting molecules. We bring a set of primitive carboxylic acids out-of-equilibrium by addition of high-energy condensing agents. The resulting anhydrides are transiently present before deactivation via hydrolysis. We find the anhydrides that phase-separate into droplets to protect themselves from hydrolysis and to be more persistent than non-assembling ones. Thus, after several starvation-refueling cycles, the library self-selects the phase-separating anhydrides. We observe that the self-selection mechanism is more effective when the library is brought out-of-equilibrium by periodic addition of batches as opposed to feeding it continuously. Our results suggest that phase-separation offers a selection mechanism for energy dissipating assemblies.