ISSN: 1477965X
First published in 2003
3 issues per volume
Volume 7 Issue 2
Cover Date: November 2009
The search for a first cell under the maximalism design principle
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Authors:  Martin M. Hanczyc And  Takashi Ikegami 
DOI: 10.1386/tear.7.2.153/1

artificial life, first cell, minimal cell, evolution, contingency, determinism

A new design principle is discussed for making a sufficiently complex cell for the creation of the first ‘wet’ artificial life in the laboratory. The current approach is to attempt a ‘minimal cell’, which consists of a liposome that contains a minimal metabolic cycle for self-maintenance and self-replication. Given the lack of success with the ‘minimal cell’ to date, the authors suggest it is possible to take an alternative approach to building the first ‘wet’ artificial life form that they have called ‘the first cell’. In this article, the concept of the first cell versus the minimal cell is discussed. The new design principle is supported by the following observations that are examined and developed from an ‘Origins of Life’ perspective: • That human development shows a U-shaped curve where the skills and developmental patterns of human infants are proficient at the first phase then decline and subsequently recover to a qualitatively better level. • A review of spatial temporal dynamics using cellular automata studies shows that complexity generated at both the initial states and the time evolution dynamics can synthesize rich evolutionary processes. • A chemical experiment exhibiting self-organizing dynamics results in the emergence of a self-propelling oil droplet that demonstrates the self-sustaining properties of a non-equilibrium state. Finally, the important design question ‘Is life a contingent or deterministic phenomenon?’ is examined which asks whether a ‘life’ form is a dynamic product of its surroundings or whether it is the inevitable outcome of prior events, and is discussed making reference to the characteristics of an art installation The Way Things Go. This contemporary masterpiece, which exhibits a long-lasting chain of unrelated causal events, serves as a theoretical model for discussion of evolutionary processes, suggesting that when it comes to designing ‘wet’ artificial life forms in the laboratory, both contingent and deterministic processes should be taken into account.
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