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Emergence of symbiosis in peptide self-replication through a hypercyclic network

A Corrigendum to this article was published on 01 July 1998

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Symbiosis is an association between different organisms that leads to a reciprocal enhancement of their ability to survive. Similar mutually beneficial relationships can operate at the molecular level in the form of a hypercycle, a collective of two or more self-replicating species interlinked through a cyclic catalytic network1,2,3,4,5. The superposition of cross-catalysis onto autocatalytic replication integrates the members of the hypercycle into a single system that reproduces through a second-order (or higher) form of nonlinear autocatalysis. The hypercycle population as a whole is therefore able to compete more efficiently for existing resources than any one member on its own. In addition, the effects of beneficial mutations of any one member are spread over the entire population. The formation of hypercycles has been suggested as an important step in the transition from inanimate to living chemistry6 , and a large number of hypercycles are expected to be embedded within the complex networks of living systems7. But only one naturally occurring hypercycle has been well documented8, while two autocatalytic chemical systems may contain vestiges of hypercyclic organization9,10. Here we report a chemical system that constitutes a clear example of a minimal hypercyclic network, in which two otherwise competitive self-replicating peptides symbiotically catalyse each others' production.

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Figure 1: Schematic diagram of a minimal hypercycle based on two self-replicating peptides.
Figure 2: Production of R2 as a function of time in the presence of various initial concentrations of R2.
Figure 3: Replicators R1 and R2 self-organize into a two-membered hypercyclic network.
Figure 4: Replicators R1 and R2 are cross-catalytic.

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We thank K. Kumar for discussions. We also thank the Medical Research Council of Canada for a predoctoral fellowship (D.H.L.), and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft for a postdoctoral fellowship (K.S.).

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Correspondence to M. Reza Ghadiri.

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Lee, D., Severin, K., Yokobayashi, Y. et al. Emergence of symbiosis in peptide self-replication through a hypercyclic network. Nature 390, 591–594 (1997).

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