I. What is self-assembly?
Self-Assembly is the process by which a system of non-living chemical components became organized into a living, biological system. For self-assembly to occur, there must be a change in a system from a more disorganized state to a more "ordered" or "organized" condition that exhibits some form of structure.
The overall process of self-assembly is not yet understood, indeed, if it were, a gemeral understanding of the origins of life would be achieved. Self-assembly has a range of generic meanings not related specifically to the origins of life, particularly in the study of self-organizing molecular systems research in physical chemistry. In this sence its meaning has to to with the ability of a system of chemical reactants to spontaneously form more "ordered" macromolecular structures.
II. The overall process of self-assembly
A. What are the minimal requirements for a proto-biological system?
1. Minimal protocell structure
2. Growth and reproduction: A number of purely physical systems exhibit this sort of behavior a soap bubble grows to a large size and then splits into two as the larger form becomes "unstable". These are physical systems that exhibit discrete forms of thermodynamically defined stability, there is a "tendency" for such systems to exist in those forms or configurations which exhibit the lowest level of free energy.
3. Use of energy and energy flow: We have a sense that there must be the utilization of chemical bond energy in order for even a protobiological system to exist
4. Ability to evolve: this is a combination of growth and reproduction combined with a system permitting the accumulation of mutations or changes
B. What are steps involved in getting to such a system?
1. Getting to the minimal lipid-bounded protocell systems
2. Primitive energetics and energy transfer
Proteinoid Microspheres: A different view of the same thing
Research on proteinoid microspheres represented the life work of Sidney Fox. Mixtures of amino acids heated and then wetted can spontaneously re-organize into spherical balls with protein-like walls. More photos of microspheres can be seen here. Read a transcript of a lecture given by Professor Fox about his audiences with Pope John Paul II.
3. Early informational mechanisms