Understanding the mechanisms that led to life as we know it is one of the most fascinating puzzles in modern science. Yet, two important aspects of this puzzle still elude us. We do not fully understand how the first proto-cells could have formed, and what factors might have favored cooperation among the first living entities necessary for the construction of increasingly complex biological objects. Several solutions have been proposed to account for these two phenomena, but none are entirely general and definitive. What if there was a common solution to these two puzzles in a completely common physical process?
This assumption is precisely the subject of a research project I conducted, which explored the possible role of diffusion as a driver of complexity at the origin of life. Using cutting-edge numerical simulations, we were able to demonstrate that this very common phenomenon can generate both spatial structures and the emergence of cooperative behaviors—two crucial elements for the emergence of life.
This discovery contributes to shedding new light not only on the emergence of life but also on a whole host of complex phenomena that undergo the effects of diffusion and depend on a form of cooperation in the unfolding of their dynamics. Our research thus helps to deepen our understanding of phenomena as varied as the behavior of bacterial colonies, bird flocking, or even traffic congestion.