Is There an Optimal Level of Open-Endedness in Prebiotic Evolution?


In this paper we explore the question of whether there is an optimal set up for a putative prebiotic system leading to open-ended evolution (OEE) of the events unfolding within this system. We do so by proposing two key innovations. First, we introduce a new index that measures OEE as a function of the likelihood of events unfolding within a universe given its initial conditions. Next, we apply this index to a variant of the graded autocatalysis replication domain (GARD) model, Segre et al. (P Natl Acad Sci USA 97(8):4112-4117, 2000; Markovitch and Lancet Artif Life 18(3), 2012), and use it to study - under a unified and concise prebiotic evolutionary framework - both a variety of initial conditions of the universe and the OEE of species that evolve from them.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2


  1. Bedau MA, McCaskill JS, Packard NH, Rasmussen S, Adami C, Green DG, Ikegami T, Kaneko K, Ray TS (2000) Open problems in artificial life. Artif Life 6(4):363–376

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Eigen M, Schuster P (1977) Hypercycle - principle of natural self-organization. A. Emergence of hypercycle. Naturwissenschaften 64(11):541–565

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Korb KB, Dorin A (2011) Evolution unbound: releasing the arrow of complexity. Biol Philos 26(3):317–338. doi:10.1007/s10539-011-9254-6

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Markovitch O, Lancet D (2012) Excess mutual catalysis is required for effective evolvability. Artif Life 18(3)

  5. McMullin B (2000) John von Neumann and the evolutionary growth of complexity: looking backward, looking forward …. Artif Life 6(4):347–361

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Mcshea DW (1994) Mechanisms of large-scale evolutionary trends. Evolution 48(6):1747–1763

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Neef A, Latorre A, Pereto J, Silva FJ, Pignatelli M, Moya A (2011) Genome economization in the endosymbiont of the wood roach cryptocercus punctulatus Due to drastic loss of amino acid synthesis capabilities. Genome Biol Evol 3:1437–1448. doi:10.1093/Gbe/Evr118

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Ruiz-Mirazo K, Pereto J, Moreno A (2004) A universal definition of life: autonomy and open-ended evolution. Origins Life Evol B 34(3):323–346

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Segre D, Ben-Eli D, Lancet D (2000) Compositional genomes: prebiotic information transfer in mutually catalytic noncovalent assemblies. P Natl Acad Sci USA 97(8):4112–4117

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Shenhav B, Oz A, Lancet D (2007) Coevolution of compositional protocells and their environment. Phil Trans R Soc B-Biol Sci 362(1486):1813–1819

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Taylor TJ (1999) From artificial evolution to artificial life. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis. University of Edinburg, Edinburg

Download references


NK would like to thank the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council for Grant EP/J004111/1 & EP/G042462/1. Parts of this work were done while he was a recipient of a Weizmann Institute of Science’s “Morris Belkin” visiting professorship. This work is partly supported by EU-FP7 project MATCHIT and by the Crown Human Genome Center at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Omer Markovitch.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Markovitch, O., Sorek, D., Lui, L.T. et al. Is There an Optimal Level of Open-Endedness in Prebiotic Evolution?. Orig Life Evol Biosph 42, 469–474 (2012).

Download citation


  • Complexity
  • Compotype
  • Compositional Information
  • Simulations
  • Replication