Symbiosis is an association between different organisms that leads to a reciprocal enhancement of their ability to survive. Similar mutually beneficial relationships can operate at the molecular level in the form of a hypercycle, a collective of two or more self-replicating species interlinked through a cyclic catalytic network. The superposition of cross-catalysis onto autocatalytic replication integrates the members of the hypercycle into a single system that reproduces through a second-order (or higher) form of nonlinear autocatalysis. The hypercycle population as a whole is therefore able to compete more efficiently for existing resources than any one member on its own. In addition, the effects of beneficial mutations of any one member are spread over the entire population. The formation of hypercycles has been suggested as an important step in the transition from inanimate to living chemistry, and a large number of hypercycles are expected to be embedded within the complex networks of living systems. But only one naturally occurring hypercycle has been well documented, while two autocatalytic chemical systems may contain vestiges of hypercyclic organization. Here we report a chemical system that constitutes a clear example of a minimal hypercyclic network, in which two otherwise competitive self-replicating peptides symbiotically catalyse each others' production.
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