Phenotype/genotype sequence complementarity and prebiotic replicator coexistence in the metabolically coupled replicator system

Balázs Könnyu, Tamás Czárán

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

5 Citations (Scopus)


Background: RNA or RNA-like polymers are the most likely candidates for having played the lead roles on the stage of the origin of life. RNA is known to feature two of the three essential functions of living entities (metabolism, heredity and membrane): it is capable of unlimited heredity and it has a proven capacity for catalysing very different chemical reactions which may form simple metabolic networks. The Metabolically Coupled Replicator System is a class of simulation models built on these two functions to show that an RNA World scenario for the origin of life is ecologically feasible, provided that it is played on mineral surfaces. The fact that RNA templates and their copies are of complementary base sequences has an obvious dynamical relevance: complementary strains may have very different structures and, consequently, functions - one may specialize for increasing enzymatic activity while the other takes the role of the gene of the enzyme. Results: Incorporating the functional divergence of template and copy into the Metabolically Coupled Replicator System model framework we show that sequence complementarity 1) does not ruin the coexistence of a set of metabolically cooperating replicators; 2) the replicator system remains resistant to, but also tolerant with its parasites; 3) opens the way to the evolutionary differentiation of phenotype and genotype through a primitive version of phenotype amplification. Conclusions: The functional asymmetry of complementary RNA strains results in a shift of phenotype/genotype (enzyme/gene) proportions in MCRS, favouring a slight genotype dominance. This asymmetry is expected to reverse due to the evolved trade-off of high "gene" replicability and high catalytic activity of the corresponding "enzyme" in expense of its replicability. This trade-off is the first evolutionary step towards the "division of labour" among enzymes and genes, which has concluded in the extreme form of phenotype amplification characteristic of our recent DNA-RNAprotein World.

Original languageEnglish
Article number234
JournalBMC Evolutionary Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2014


  • Coexistence
  • Complementary RNA strains
  • Genotype
  • Phenotype
  • Prebiotic evolution
  • RNA world
  • Replicator
  • Template replication

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

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