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Volume 2018, Article ID 9376183, 21 pages
Research Article

Prebiotic Geochemical Automata at the Intersection of Radiolytic Chemistry, Physical Complexity, and Systems Biology

1Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA
2Blue Marble Space Institute of Science, Seattle, WA, USA
3Earth-Life Science Institute, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Tokyo, Japan
4Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and Department of Astronomy, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA
5Faculty of Environment and Information Studies, Keio University, Kanagawa, Japan

Correspondence should be addressed to Zachary R. Adam; ude.dravrah.g@madaz

Received 27 October 2017; Accepted 20 February 2018; Published 26 June 2018

Academic Editor: Roberto Natella

Copyright © 2018 Zachary R. Adam et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The tractable history of life records a successive emergence of organisms composed of hierarchically organized cells and greater degrees of individuation. The lowermost object level of this hierarchy is the cell, but it is unclear whether the organizational attributes of living systems extended backward through prebiotic stages of chemical evolution. If the systems biology attributes of the cell were indeed templated upon prebiotic synthetic relationships between subcellular objects, it is not obvious how to categorize object levels below the cell in ways that capture any hierarchies which may have preceded living systems. In this paper, we map out stratified relationships between physical components that drive the production of key prebiotic molecules starting from radiolysis of a small number of abundant molecular species. Connectivity across multiple levels imparts the potential to create and maintain far-from-equilibrium chemical conditions and to manifest nonlinear system behaviors best approximated using automata formalisms. The architectural attribute of “information hiding” of energy exchange processes at each object level is shared with stable, multitiered automata such as digital computers. These attributes may indicate a profound connection between the system complexity afforded by energy dissipation by subatomic level objects and the emergence of complex automata that could have preceded biological systems.