On the definition of a self-sustaining chemical reaction system and its role in heredity
Background The ability to self-sustain is one of the essential properties of life. However, a consistent and satisfying definition of self-sustainability is still missing. Currently, self-sustainability refers to either "no-intervention by a higher entity" or "regeneration of all the system's components". How to connect self-sustainability with heredity, another essential of life, is another problem, as they are often considered to be independent of each other. Last but not least, current
... east, current definitions of self-sustainability failed to provide a practical method to empirically discern whether a chemical system is self-sustaining or not. Results Here I propose a definition of self-sustainability. It takes into account the chemical reaction network itself and the external environment which is simplified as a continuous-flow stirred tank reactor. One distinct property of self-sustaining systems is that the system can only proceed if molecular triggers (or called, seeds) are present initially. The molecular triggers are able to establish the whole system, indicating that they carry the preliminary heredity of the system. Consequently, life and a large group of fires (and other dissipative systems) can be distinguished. Besides, the general properties and various real-life examples of self-sustaining systems discussed here together indicate that self-sustaining systems are not uncommon. Conclusions The definition I proposed here naturally connects self-sustainability with heredity. As this definition involves the continuous-flow stirred tank reactor, it gives a simple way to empirically test whether a system is self-sustaining or not. Moreover, the general properties and various real-life examples of self-sustaining systems discussed here provide practical guidance on how to construct and detect such systems in real biology and chemistry. Reviewers This article was reviewed by Wentao Ma and David Baum.