Our collaborative research is focused around the concept of autocatalytic sets. An autocatalytic set is a functionally closed and self-sustaining chemical reaction network.

Functionally closed means that the system’s own components are sufficient to fully implement and regulate its functionality. A functionally closed system is thus a self-regulating (or autonomous) system. Self-sustaining means that the system’s own functionality is, in turn, sufficient to construct and reproduce (or repair) its components from a basic food set. A system’s food set comprises those elements that are directly available from its environment.

We generally view living systems as functionally closed and self-sustaining chemical reaction networks. In other words, a living system produces its own components (from a given food set), in such a way that these components are continuously regenerated, and maintain and regulate the very chemical network that produced them. As such, autocatalytic sets are considered to be an underlying principle of the (chemical) organization of life, and are thus also believed to have played an important role in life’s actual origin.

Our work can roughly be divided into three main lines of research:

  1. Theoretical and computational aspects of autocatalytic sets.
  2. Experimental studies on the emergence of autocatalytic sets.
  3. Closing the gap between theory and experiment.