Spatial models of prebiotic evolution: Soup before pizza?

István Scheuring, Tamás Czárán, Péter Szabó, György Károlyi, Zoltán Toroczkai

Research output: Article

43 Citations (Scopus)


The problem of information integration and resistance to the invasion of parasitic mutants in prebiotic replicator systems is a notorious issue of research on the origin of life. Almost all theoretical studies published so far have demonstrated that some kind of spatial structure is indispensable for the persistence and/or the parasite resistance of any feasible replicator system. Based on a detailed critical survey of spatial models on prebiotic information integration, we suggest a possible scenario for replicator system evolution leading to the emergence of the first protocells capable of independent life. We show that even the spatial versions of the hypercycle model are vulnerable to selfish parasites in heterogeneous habitats. Contrary, the metabolic system remains persistent and coexistent with its parasites both on heterogeneous surfaces and in chaotically mixing flowing media. Persistent metabolic parasites can be converted to metabolic cooperators, or they can gradually obtain replicase activity. Our simulations show that, once replicase activity emerged, a gradual and simultaneous evolutionary improvement of replicase functionality (speed and fidelity) and template efficiency is possible only on a surface that constrains the mobility of macromolecule replicators. Based on the results of the models reviewed, we suggest that open chaotic flows ('soup') and surface dynamics ('pizza') both played key roles in the sequence of evolutionary events ultimately concluding in the appearance of the first living cell on Earth.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)319-355
Number of pages37
JournalOrigins of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere
Issue number4-5
Publication statusPublished - okt. 1 2003


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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