Membrane Self-Assembly Processes: Steps Toward the First Cellular Life

  • Pierre-Alain MonnardEmail author
  • David W. Deamer


This review addresses the question of the origin of life, with emphasis on plausible boundary structures that may have initially provided cellular compartmentation. Some form of compartmentation is a necessary prerequisite for maintaining the integrity of interdependent molecular systems that are associated with metabolism, and for permitting variations required for speciation. The fact that lipid-bilayer membranes define boundaries of all contemporary living cells suggests that protocellular compartments were likely to have required similar, self-assembled boundaries. Amphiphiles such as short-chain fatty acids, which were presumably available on the early Earth, can self-assemble into stable vesicles that encapsulate hydrophilic solutes with catalytic activity. Their suspensions in aqueous media have therefore been used to investigate nutrient uptake across simple membranes and encapsulated catalyzed reactions, both of which would be essential processes in protocellular life forms.


Hydrocarbon Chain Decanoic Acid Monocarboxylic Acid Pigment System Acid Vesicle 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank the Center for Living Technology (FLinT) and its sponsors, the Danish Research Foundation Professorship and the University of Southern Denmark, for their support.


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© Springer Netherlands 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.FLinT Center, Institute for Physics and ChemistryUniversity of Southern DenmarkOdense MDenmark
  2. 2.Department of Biomolecular EngineeringUniversity of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC)Santa CruzUSA

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