A living system however primitive, must include mechanisms for conservation as well as for variation of genetic information and for its adaptation to optimal phenotypic performance under given environmental conditions.
In order to maintain such a state of optimal performance the system has to metabolise steadily energy-rich material thereby remaining in a (meta-) stable ‘far from equilibrium’ position. If such material prerequisites are fulfilled ‘life’ should emerge inevitably as a ‘regularity among material events’ and such a regularity, if it exists, should be testable under laboratory conditions.
Virus replicases have been shown to provide efficient mechanisms for assembling de novo macromolecular RNA-templates from energy-rich monomeric precursors and for adapting them quickly to optimal self-reproductive performance. With the help of such systems the theory of molecular self-organisation (e.g. the quasi-species model) has been tested quantitatively. The experiments, in particular, have addressed the question “first template – first enzyme?” including adaptation of target and source function of the genotypes. A machine is described in which experiments on self-reproduction and translation can be carried out in a continuous and systematic way. Questions regarding the origin of life can thereby be scrutinised by experimental falsification.