Generalist versus Specialist Self-Replicators

Dávid Komáromy, Diego M Monzón, Ivana Marić, Guillermo Monreal Santiago, Jim Ottelé, Meniz Altay, Gaël Schaeffer, Sijbren Otto*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Darwinian evolution, including the selection of the fittest species under given environmental conditions, is a major milestone in the development of synthetic living systems. In this regard, generalist or specialist behavior (the ability to replicate in a broader or narrower, more specific food environment) are of importance. Here we demonstrate generalist and specialist behavior in dynamic combinatorial libraries composed of a peptide-based and an oligo(ethylene glycol) based building block. Three different sets of macrocyclic replicators could be distinguished based on their supramolecular organization: two prepared from a single building block as well as one prepared from an equimolar mixture of them. Peptide-containing hexamer replicators were found to be generalists, i.e. they could replicate in a broad range of food niches, whereas the octamer peptide-based replicator and hexameric ethyleneoxide-based replicator were proven to be specialists, i.e. they only replicate in very specific food niches that correspond to their composition. However, sequence specificity cannot be demonstrated for either of the generalist replicators. The generalist versus specialist nature of these replicators was linked to their supramolecular organization. Assembly modes that accommodate structurally different building blocks lead to generalist replicators, while assembly modes that are more restrictive yield specialist replicators.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere202303837
Number of pages10
JournalChemistry – A European Journal
Issue number20
Early online date19-Feb-2024
Publication statusPublished - 5-Apr-2024


  • self-replication
  • systems chemistry
  • dynamic combinatorial chemistry
  • generalist species
  • specialist species

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