In living systems processes like genome duplication and cell division are carefully synchronized through subsystem coupling. If we are to create life de novo, similar control over essential processes such as self-replication need to be developed. Here we report that coupling two dynamic combinatorial subsystems, featuring two separate building blocks, enables effector-mediated control over self-replication. The subsystem based on the first building block shows only self-replication, whereas that based on the second one is solely responsive toward a specific external effector molecule. Mixing the subsystems arrests replication until the effector molecule is added, resulting in the formation of a host-effector complex and the liberation of the building block that subsequently engages in self-replication. The onset, rate and extent of self-replication is controlled by the amount of effector present.