Cellular life can be viewed as one of many physical natural systems that extract free energy from their environments in the most efficient way, according to fundamental physical laws, and grow until limited by inherent physical constraints. Thus, it can be inferred that it is the efficiency of this process that natural selection acts upon. The consequent emphasis on metabolism, rather than replication, points to a metabolism-first origin of life with the adoption of DNA template replication as a second stage development. This order of events implies a cellular regulatory system that pre-dates the involvement of DNA and might, therefore, be based on the information acquired as peptides fold into proteins, rather than on genetic regulatory networks. Such an epigenetic cell regulatory model, the independent attractor model, has already been proposed to explain the phenomenon of radiation induced genomic instability. Here it is extended to provide an epigenetic basis for the morphological and functional diversity that evolution has yielded, based on natural selection of the most efficient free energy transduction. Empirical evidence which challenges the current genetic basis of cell and molecular biology and which supports the above proposal is discussed.
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