Acta Biotheoretica

, Volume 60, Issue 4, pp 379–392 | Cite as

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

  • Wim HordijkEmail author
  • Mike Steel
  • Stuart Kauffman
Regular Article


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 



This paper was finalized while WH and SK were visiting the Computational Systems Biology Research Group of the Tampere University of Technology, Finland. MS thanks the Royal Society of New Zealand for funding support. We also thank Vera Vasas for helpful and stimulating discussions.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.SmartAnalytiX.comLausanneSwitzerland
  2. 2.Biomathematics Research CentreUniversity of CanterburyChristchurchNew Zealand
  3. 3.University of VermontBurlingtonUSA
  4. 4.Tampere University of TechnologyTampereFinland

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