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The Emergence of Organizations and Markets$
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John F. Padgett and Walter W. Powell

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780691148670

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691148670.001.0001

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Autocatalysis in Chemistry and the Origin of Life

Autocatalysis in Chemistry and the Origin of Life

(p.33) 2 Autocatalysis in Chemistry and the Origin of Life
The Emergence of Organizations and Markets

John F. Padgett

Princeton University Press

This chapter provides an extensive review of the biochemistry literature on the origins of life where the concept of autocatalysis figures most prominently. There is a lively debate in the scientific literature between scientists who subscribe to an RNA-first hypothesis and scientists who subscribe to a metabolism-first hypothesis about the origin of life. Both are different versions of autocatalysis, and a sensible conclusion could be that biological life really took off when a symbiosis developed between the two. After that, the chapter reviews past formal modeling in this area, which is spotty but highly suggestive. The chapter identifies Eigen's and Schuster's model of hypercycles as the path-breaking work that first placed empirical chemistry and formal models into fruitful dialogue with each other. Finally, the chapter reviews a less successful, more philosophical descendant of autocatalysis called autopoiesis, which is the guise under which autocatalysis first was presented to social scientists.

Keywords:   biochemistry literature, autocatalysis, origin of life, RNA-first hypothesis, metabolism-first hypothesis, hypercycles, empirical chemistry, formal models, autopoiesis, hypercycles

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