The Single Theory That Could Explain Emergence, Organisation And The Origin of Life - Technology Review: One idea is that groups of molecules can form autocatalytic sets. These are self-sustaining chemical factories, in which the product of one reaction is the feedstock or catalyst for another. The result is a virtuous, self-contained cycle of chemical creation.
Today, Stuart Kauffman at the University of Vermont in Burlington and a couple of pals take a look at the broader mathematical properties of autocatalytic sets...
They go on to show how evolution can work on a single autocatalytic set, producing new subsets within it that are mutually dependent on each other. This process sets up an environment in which newer subsets can evolve.
"In other words, self-sustaining, functionally closed structures can arise at a higher level (an autocatalytic set of autocatalytic sets), i.e., true emergence," they say.