Background. The remarkable potential of recent forms of life for reliably passing on genetic information through many generations now depends on the coordinated action of thousands of specialized biochemical "machines" (enzymes) that were obviously absent in prebiotic times. Thus the question how a complicated system like the living cell could have assembled on Earth seems puzzling. In seeking for a scientific explanation one has to search for step-by-step evolutionary changes from prebiotic chemistry to the emergence of the first proto-cell. Results. We try to sketch a plausible scenario for the first steps of prebiotic evolution by exploring the ecological feasibility of a mineral surface-bound replicator system that facilitates a primitive metabolism. Metabolism is a hypothetical network of simple chemical reactions producing monomers for the template-copying of RNA-like replicators, which in turn catalyse metabolic reactions. Using stochastic cellular automata (SCA) simulations we show that the surface-bound metabolic replicator system is viable despite internal competition among the genes and that it also maintains a set of mild "parasitic" sequences which occasionally evolve functions such as that of a replicase. Conclusion. Replicase activity is shown to increase even at the expense of slowing down the replication of the evolving ribozyme itself, due to indirect mutualistic benefits in a diffuse form of group selection among neighbouring replicators. We suggest possible paths for further evolutionary changes in the metabolic replicator system leading to increased metabolic efficiency, improved replicase functionality, and membrane production.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics