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Proc Biol Sci. 2009 Nov 7;276(1674):3783-90. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2009.1136. Epub 2009 Aug 19.

Prelife catalysts and replicators.

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PRESTO, Japan Science and Technology Agency, Kawaguchi, Saitama, Japan.


Life is based on replication and evolution. But replication cannot be taken for granted. We must ask what there was prior to replication and evolution. How does evolution begin? We have proposed prelife as a generative system that produces information and diversity in the absence of replication. We model prelife as a binary soup of active monomers that form random polymers. 'Prevolutionary' dynamics can have mutation and selection prior to replication. Some sequences might have catalytic activity, thereby enhancing the rates of certain prelife reactions. We study the selection criteria for these prelife catalysts. Their catalytic efficiency must be above certain critical values. We find a maintenance threshold and an initiation threshold. The former is a linear function of sequence length, and the latter is an exponential function of sequence length. Therefore, it is extremely hard to select for prelife catalysts that have long sequences. We compare prelife catalysis with a simple model for replication. Assuming fast template-based elongation reactions, we can show that replicators have selection thresholds that are independent of their sequence length. Our calculation demonstrates the efficiency of replication and provides an explanation of why replication was selected over other forms of prelife catalysis.

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