Regular Article

Acta Biotheoretica

, Volume 60, Issue 4, pp 379-392

First online:

The Structure of Autocatalytic Sets: Evolvability, Enablement, and Emergence

  • Wim HordijkAffiliated Email author 
  • , Mike SteelAffiliated withBiomathematics Research Centre, University of Canterbury
  • , Stuart KauffmanAffiliated withUniversity of VermontTampere University of Technology

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This paper presents new results from a detailed study of the structure of autocatalytic sets. We show how autocatalytic sets can be decomposed into smaller autocatalytic subsets, and how these subsets can be identified and classified. We then argue how this has important consequences for the evolvability, enablement, and emergence of autocatalytic sets. We end with some speculation on how all this might lead to a generalized theory of autocatalytic sets, which could possibly be applied to entire ecologies or even economies.


Origin of life Autocatalytic sets Evolvability Emergence Functional organization