Simulating the origins of life: The dual role of RNA replicases as an obstacle to evolution


Despite years of study, it is still not clear how life emerged from inanimate matter and evolved into the complex forms that we observe today. One of the most recognized hypotheses for the origins of life, the RNA World hypothesis, assumes that life was sparked by prebiotic replicating RNA chains. In this paper, we address the problems caused by the interplay between hypothetical prebiotic RNA replicases and RNA parasitic species. We consider the coexistence of parasite RNAs and RNA replicases as well as the impact of parasites on the further evolution of replicases. For these purposes, we used multi-agent modeling techniques that allow for realistic assumptions regarding the movement and spatial interactions of modeled species. The general model used in this study is based on work by Takeuchi and Hogeweg. Our results confirm that the coexistence of parasite RNAs and replicases is possible in a spatially extended system, even if we take into consideration more realistic assumptions than Takeuchi and Hogeweg. However, we also showed that the presence of trade-off that takes into the account an RNA folding process could still pose a serious obstacle to the evolution of replication. We conclude that this might be a cause for one of the greatest transitions in life that took place early in evolution—the separation of the function between DNA templates and protein enzymes, with a central role for RNA species.


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