Could Dividing Active Droplets Provide a Model for Protocells?
Macromolecular aggregation and phase separation into droplets has been proposed as a mechanism to organize chemical reactions that could have been a key precursor at the origin of the first living cells. However, it remains unclear how early protocells could have proliferated and divided - deformed droplets usually relax towards a spherical shape and do not easily divide. Our theoretical study shows that in the presence of chemical reactions that produce and destroy droplet material, a chemically active droplet may undergo a flux-driven shape instability and subsequently divide into two daughter droplets, which may then grow and divide again. We also find that when considering the effects of hydrodynamics which tend to stabilize spherical droplets, the shape instability can still occur for sufficiently small droplets. Our work suggests that chemically active droplets that divide and propagate could serve as a model for prebiotic protocells.