Research Summary: The Evolution of Enzyme Specificity in the Metabolic Replicator Model of Prebiotic Evolution


The chemical machinery of life must have been catalytic from the outset. Models of the chemical origins have attempted to explain the ecological mechanisms maintaining a minimum necessary diversity of prebiotic replicator enzymes, but little attention has been paid so far to the evolutionary initiation of that diversity. We propose a possible first step in this direction: based on our previous model of a surface-bound metabolic replicator system we try to explain how the adaptive specialization of enzymatic replicator populations might have led to more diverse and more efficient communities of cooperating replicators with two different enzyme activities. The key assumptions of the model are that mutations in the replicator population can lead towards a) both of the two different enzyme specificities in separate replicators: efficient “specialists” or b) a “generalist” replicator type with both enzyme specificities working at less efficiency, or c) a fast-replicating, non-enzymatic “parasite”. We show that under realistic trade-off constraints on the phenotypic effects of these mutations the evolved replicator community will be usually composed of both types of specialists and of a limited abundance of parasites, provided that the replicators can slowly migrate on the mineral surface. It is only at very weak trade-offs that generalists take over in a phase-transition-like manner. The parasites do not seriously harm the system but can freely mutate, therefore they can be considered as pre-adaptations to later, useful functions that the metabolic system can adopt to increase its own fitness.


Publisher: Public Library of Science

Date Published: 16-June-2011

Author(s): Könnyű B., Czárán T.


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