Self-replication has been demonstrated in synthetic chemical systems based on oligonucleotides, peptides and complementary molecules without natural analogues. However, within a living cell virtually no molecule catalyses its own formation, and the search for chemical systems in which both auto- and cross-catalysis can occur has therefore attracted wide interest. One such system, consisting of two self-replicating peptides that catalyse each other's production, has been reported. Here we describe a four- component peptide system that is capable of auto- and cross-catalysis and allows for the selective amplification of one or more of the products by changing the reaction conditions. The ability of this system selectively to amplify one or more molecules in response to changes in environmental conditions such as pH or salt concentration supports the suggestion that self-replicating peptides may have played a role in the origin of life.
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