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Astrobiology. 2012 Sep;12(9):870-83. doi: 10.1089/ast.2012.0860. Epub 2012 Sep 4.

Darwinian behavior in a cold, sporadically fed pool of ribonucleotides.

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  • 1Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309-0347, USA. yarus@stripe.colorado.edu

Abstract

A testable, explicit origin for Darwinian behavior, feasible on a chaotic early Earth, would aid origins discussion. Here I show that a pool receiving unreliable supplies of unstable ribonucleotide precursors can recurrently fill this role. By using numerical integration, the differential equations governing a sporadically fed pool are solved, yielding quantitative constraints for the proliferation of molecules that also have a chemical phenotype. For example, templated triphosphate nucleotide joining is >10(4) too slow, suggesting that a group more reactive than pyrophosphate activated primordial nucleotides. However, measured literature rates are sufficient if the Initial Darwinian Ancestor (IDA) resembles a 5'-5' cofactor-like dinucleotide RNA, synthesized via activation with a phosphorimidazolide-like group. A sporadically fed pool offers unforeseen advantages; for example, the pool hosts a novel replicator which is predominantly unpaired, even though it replicates. Such free template is optimized for effective selection during its replication. Pool nucleotides are also subject to a broadly based selection that impels the population toward replication, effective selection, and Darwinian behavior. Such a primordial pool may have left detectable modern traces. A sporadically fed ribonucleotide pool also fits a recognizable early Earth environment, has recognizable modern descendants, and suits the early shape of the phylogenetic tree of Earthly life. Finally, analysis points to particular data now needed to refine the hypothesis. Accordingly, a kinetically explicit chemical hypothesis for a terran IDA can be justified, and informative experiments seem readily accessible.

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