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Gene. 1993 Dec 15;135(1-2):37-47.

The origin of genetic information: viruses as models.

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Max-Planck-Institut für biophysikalische Chemie, Göttingen, Germany.


A living entity can be described as a complex adaptive system which differs from any, however complex, chemical structure by its capability of functional self-organization based on the processing of information. If one asks, where does this information come from and what is its primary semantics, the answer is: information generates itself in feedback loops via replication and selection, the objective being 'to be or not to be'. This paper describes the theoretical framework of information-generating systems and provides experimental clues for some basic forms of genetic organization, such as molecular quasi-species, hypercyclic and compartmentalized RNA-protein assemblies. The results are primarily obtained with RNA viruses and virus-like systems. The experiments are carried out with the help of automated, computer-controlled bioreactors, called 'evolution machines', that may form the basis of a new 'evolutionary biotechnology'.

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