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........ published in NEWSLETTER # 55

by Professor P.L. Luisi, ETH, Zurich (Switzerland)

The term "self-replication" or the more or less equivalent term "self-reproduction" indicates the capability of a natural or synthetic system to make copies of itself, usually due to an autocatalytic process, i.e. a process which is induced and accelerated by the system itself. It was timely to call a meeting on the subject, as the field of self-replication has undergone a considerable development in the past few years; a development deriving, however, from quite different schools of thought, each one with its own language and tradition. It was then important to compare notes and confront differences, with the idea also of possibly reaching a common language and clarifying the most important goals and problems in the field.

Of the different schools of thought, the most influential is perhaps the one which makes reference to the "RNA world", and the work by Jack Szostack in Boston and Gerard Joyce at Scripps Institute is illustrative in this regard: these authors move within the framework of molecular biology and utilize generally sophisticated enzymes or ribozymes in their work. Self- replication work without enzymes, i.e. based on the rules of classic organic chemistry, is represented by the groups of Gunther Van Kiedrowski in Freiburg, Germany, and Julius Rebek at MIT (USA). A quite different school is the one based on "autopoiesis", according to which in order to understand minimal life and the basic mechanisms of life one has to look at the organizational structure of a spherically closed (boundary) supramolecular structure - such as the living cell. The authors here (Luisi's group in Zurich, based on the theory developed by Maturana and Varela) emphasize the self-reproduction of spherically closed structures such as micelles and vesicles, whereby the chemical process leading to self-reproduction is induced and catalyzed by the bounded structure itself.

The meeting, which resulted in a state-of-the-art publication (NATO ASI SERIES C446), was an interesting blend of scientists with quite different backgrounds and work philosophies, and has proved extremely useful in order to encourage all kinds of novel scientific interactions and projects.
Reference books: B73, C214, C369, C371, C426, C446, C448, C473

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