Chemoton is short for “chemical automation”. It is a heuristic model that is part of chemiton theory described by Hungarian chemical engineer, Tibor Gánti. Tibor Gánti died on April 15, 2009. He was a titular Professor of the Eötvös Lóránd University, and is considered the mental father of system chemistry. Chemiton theory is composed of a set of life criteria. The chemoton is the minimal chemical organization that satisfies its life criteria.
The chemoton theory is relevant to origins of life research with respect to pathways from chemical to living systems and to the construction of artificial living systems. The chemoton model originates in Gánti’s idea of living systems as combinations of two processes: the main cycle that drives a system through ontogenetic changes and the equilibrating system that maintains organization despite changes in the environment and the organism itself. The two main parts of chemoton theory are a phenomenological characterization of living systems and the presentation of the simplest, minimal living system model which is the chemoton.
The aspects of living systems represented by the chemoton has changed over time, since the concept was put forth by Gánti in his 1971 book, The Principle of Life, which was written in Hugarian, Az élet princípiuma. In 1971 the chemoton consisted of two subsystems: The main cycle is the genetic material undergoing template replication, consuming monomers produced by an autocatalytic chemical cycle or minimal metabolic network. The equilibrating system involves the balance between source and waste materials. From this two-subsystem model which includes a genetic system and metabolism the chemoton evolved to a three-subsystem model. In 1974 the chemoton included the additional subsystem of compartmentation which occurs by an autocatalytically growing bilayer membrane.
A chemoton may be any autocatalytic chemical supersystem that is composed of the above three subsystems: genetic material undergoing replication, an equilibrating metabolic network and a growing membrane and is capable of capable of self-maintenance, proliferation, and evolution. The subsystems may each be stoichiometric but as a whole the supersystem may be stoichiometrically “indefinite”, meaning that overall dynamics are stoichiometric while individual reactions or subsystem couplings do not need to be stoichiometric.
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