What Wilhelm Ostwald meant by “Autokatalyse” and its significance to origins‐of‐life research: Facilitating the search for chemical pathways underlying abiogenesis by reviving Ostwald's thought that reactants may also be autocatalysts

Reactants may also be autocatalysts


A closer look at Wilhelm Ostwald’s articles that originally proposed the concept of autocatalysis reveals that he accepted reactants, not just products, as potential autocatalysts. Therefore, that a process is catalyzed by some of its products, which is the common definition of autocatalysis, is only a proper subset of what Ostwald meant by “Autokatalyse.” As a result, it is necessary to reconsider the definition of autocatalysis, which is especially important for origins-of-life research because autocatalysis provides an abiotic mechanism that yields reproduction-like dynamics. Here, we translate and briefly review the two key publications on autocatalysis by Ostwald to revive his understanding of autocatalysis, and we introduce the concepts of recessive and expansive autocatalysis. Then we discuss the twofold significance of such a revival: first, facilitating the search for candidate processes underlying the origins of life, and second, updating our view of autocatalysis in complex reaction networks and metabolism.


Klaus Paschek
Klaus Paschek
Ph.D. candidate - Astrophysics

My research interests include prebiotic synthesis, planetary science, and autocatalysis.