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Life on Earth may have begun as dividing droplets

Shape-shifting blobs of chemicals could split to reproduce, simulations show

By
7:00am, March 21, 2017
chemicals within a primordial soup

DROPS DIVIDE  Droplets of chemicals (green) within a primordial soup (blue) can elongate, split and replicate (top row, left to right), new simulations indicate. That process repeats (bottom row) to create new generations of droplets, in a process that mimics reproduction and could reveal the origins of life.

NEW ORLEANS — In a primordial soup on ancient Earth, droplets of chemicals may have paved the way for the first cells. Shape-shifting droplets split, grow and split again in new computer simulations. The result indicates that simple chemical blobs can exhibit replication, one of the most basic properties of life, physicist Rabea Seyboldt of the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems in Dresden, Germany, reported March 16 at a meeting of the American Physical Society.

Within a liquid, small droplets of particular chemicals can separate out, like beads of oil in water. Such globules typically remain spherical, growing as they merge with other drops. But in simulations, Seyboldt and colleagues found that droplets might behave in a counterintuitive way under certain conditions, elongating and eventually dividing into two.

If additional droplet material is continuously

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