Coevolution of compositional protocells and their environment

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2007 Oct 29;362(1486):1813-9. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2007.2073.


The coevolution of environment and living organisms is well known in nature. Here, it is suggested that similar processes can take place before the onset of life, where protocellular entities, rather than full-fledged living systems, coevolve along with their surroundings. Specifically, it is suggested that the chemical composition of the environment may have governed the chemical repertoire generated within molecular assemblies, compositional protocells, while compounds generated within these protocells altered the chemical composition of the environment. We present an extension of the graded autocatalysis replication domain (GARD) model--the environment exchange polymer GARD (EE-GARD) model. In the new model, molecules, which are formed in a protocellular assembly, may be exported to the environment that surrounds the protocell. Computer simulations of the model using an infinite-sized environment showed that EE-GARD assemblies may assume several distinct quasi-stationary compositions (composomes), similar to the observations in previous variants of the GARD model. A statistical analysis suggested that the repertoire of composomes manifested by the assemblies is independent of time. In simulations with a finite environment, this was not the case. Composomes, which were frequent in the early stages of the simulation disappeared, while others emerged. The change in the frequencies of composomes was found to be correlated with changes induced on the environment by the assembly. The EE-GARD model is the first GARD model to portray a possible time evolution of the composomes repertoire.

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution*
  • Cell Physiological Phenomena*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Environment*
  • Models, Biological