Nanotube-Mediated Path to Protocell Formation
Journal article, 2019
Cellular compartments are membrane-enclosed, spatially distinct microenvironments that confine and protect biochemical reactions in the biological cell. On the early Earth, the autonomous formation of compartments is thought to have led to the encapsulation of nucleotides, thereby satisfying a starting condition for the emergence of life. Recently, surfaces have come into focus as potential platforms for the self-assembly of prebiotic compartments, as significantly enhanced vesicle formation was reported in the presence of solid interfaces. The detailed mechanism of such formation at the mesoscale is still under discussion. We report here on the spontaneous transformation of solid-surface-adhered lipid deposits to unilamellar membrane compartments through a straightforward sequence of topological changes, proceeding via a network of interconnected lipid nanotubes. We show that this transformation is entirely driven by surface-free energy minimization and does not require hydrolysis of organic molecules or external stimuli such as electrical currents or mechanical agitation. The vesicular structures take up and encapsulate their external environment during formation and can subsequently separate and migrate upon exposure to hydrodynamic flow. This may link the self-directed transition from weakly organized bioamphiphile assemblies on solid surfaces to protocells with secluded internal contents.
origin of life