Darwinian evolution involves the inheritance and selection of variations in reproducing entities. Selection can be based on, among others, interactions with the environment. Conversely, the replicating entities can also affect their environment generating a reciprocal feedback on evolutionary dynamics. The onset of such eco-evolutionary dynamics marks a stepping stone in the transition from chemistry to biology. Yet the bottom-up creation of a molecular system that exhibits eco-evolutionary dynamics has remained elusive. Here we describe the onset of such dynamics in a minimal system containing two synthetic self-replicators. The replicators are capable of binding and activating a co-factor, enabling them to change the oxidation state of their environment through photoredox catalysis. The replicator distribution adapts to this change and, depending on light intensity, one or the other replicator becomes dominant. This study shows how behaviour analogous to eco-evolutionary dynamics—which until now has been restricted to biology—can be created using an artificial minimal replicator system.
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The UPLC data generated and analysed in this article are included in its Supplementary Information in the form of integrated peak areas and exported traces of representative chromatograms. All other data generated or analysed during this study are included in this published article and its Supplementary Information. Waters UPLC software stores raw UPLC data in a database format from which they are not readily extractable. These data are available on request. Source data are provided with this paper.
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The authors thank W. R. Browne (University of Groningen) for the phosphorescence and EPR measurements and O. Markovitch (University of Groningen) for providing guidance on the usage of UPLC stirring device. This work was supported by the Simons Foundation (553330; K.L.), Marie Curie Individual Fellowships (PSR 786350; K.L.), the oLife Cofund programme (847675; A.B.), the ERC (AdG 741774), the China Scholarship Council (J.W.) and the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (Gravitation programme 024.001.035; A.K. and S.O.).
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Relative peak area of components in the sample obtained from UPLC chromatograms.
Relative/absolute peak areas of components in the sample obtained from UPLC chromatograms; calculation of the relative change of the peak areas, the concentration of bound precursor, the adsorption efficiency, and replication rate.
Relative peak areas of components in the sample obtained from UPLC chromatograms.
Raw spectral data; absolute peak areas of the monomer in UPLC chromatograms, and calculation of oxidation rates from them; Relative peak areas of components in the sample obtained from UPLC chromatograms.
Relative peak areas of components in the sample in UPLC chromatograms.
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Liu, K., Blokhuis, A., van Ewijk, C. et al. Light-driven eco-evolutionary dynamics in a synthetic replicator system. Nat. Chem. (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41557-023-01301-2