What is it about?

The origin of chemical complexity in space is not only an open question, but also a fundamental aspect of understanding the first steps in the origin of life. In this work, we explain the appearance of complex molecules in the clouds of the interstellar medium from a novel point of view: chemical complexity arises as an emergent process typical of complexity theory, a discipline that explains collective phenomena as diverse as traffic jams or avalanches.

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Why is it important?

The road to life is punctuated by transitions toward complexity, from astrochemistry to biomolecules and eventually to living organisms. Disentangling the origin of such transitions is a challenge where the application of complexity and network theory has not been fully exploited. In this work, we introduce a computational framework in which simple networks simulate the most basic building bricks of life and interact to form complex structures. The surprising fact is that while our model is abstract and unrelated to chemical theory, its predictions reliably mimic the molecular evolution in the interstellar medium during the transition toward chemical complexity. Furthermore, our work reinforces the notion that some of the properties that condition the extremely complex journey from the chemistry in space to prebiotic chemistry and finally to life could show relatively simple and universal patterns.

Perspectives

We believe that this work promises to be a novel bridge between astrochemistry and complexity theory, two disciplines that had been mainly disconnected so far. We hope that this new perspective will be of use to disentangle other open questions in very different contexts such as ecology, astrobiology or even social systems.

Jacobo Aguirre
Centro de Astrobiología (CSIC-INTA), Madrid, Spain

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This page is a summary of: The emergence of interstellar molecular complexity explained by interacting networks, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, July 2022, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2119734119.
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