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Comparison of fundamental physical properties of the model cells (protocells) and the living cells reveals the need in protophysiology

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 January 2016

V.V. Matveev*
Laboratory of Cell Physiology, Institute of Cytology, Russian Academy of Sciences, Tikhoretsky Ave 4, St. Petersburg 194064, Russia


A hypothesis is proposed about potassium ponds being the cradles of life enriches the gamut of ideas about the possible conditions of pre-biological evolution on the primeval Earth, but does not bring us closer to solving the real problem of the origin of life. The gist of the matter lies in the mechanism of making a delimitation between two environments – the intracellular environment and the habitat of protocells. Since the sodium–potassium pump (Na+/K+-ATPase) was discovered, no molecular model has been proposed for a predecessor of the modern sodium pump. This has brought into life the idea of the potassium pond, wherein protocells would not need a sodium pump. However, current notions of the operation of living cells come into conflict with even physical laws when trying to use them to explain the origin and functioning of protocells. Thus, habitual explanations of the physical properties of living cells have become inapplicable to explain the corresponding properties of Sidney Fox's microspheres. Likewise, existing approaches to solving the problem of the origin of life do not see the need for the comparative study of living cells and cell models, assemblies of biological and artificial small molecules and macromolecules under physical conditions conducive to the origin of life. The time has come to conduct comprehensive research into the fundamental physical properties of protocells and create a new discipline – protocell physiology or protophysiology – which should bring us much closer to solving the problem of the origin of life.

Review Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

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