Group Selection of Early Replicators and the Origin of Life

J Theor Biol. 1987 Oct 21;128(4):463-86. doi: 10.1016/s0022-5193(87)80191-1.


A major problem of the origin of life has been that of information integration. As Eigen (1971) has shown, a mutant distribution of RNAs replicating without the aid of a replicase cannot integrate sufficient information for the functioning of a higher-level unit utilizing several types of encoded enzymes. He proposed the hypercycle model to bridge this gap in prebiology. It can be shown by a nonlinear game model, incorporating mutation of a hypercycle, that the selection properties of hypercycles make them inefficient information integrators as they cannot compete favourably with all kinds of less efficient information carriers or mutationally coupled hypercycles. The stochastic corrector model is presented as an alternative resolution of Eigen's paradox. It assumes that replicative templates are competing within replicative compartments, whose selective values depend on the internal template composition via a catalytic acid in replication and "metabolism". The dynamics of template replication are analyzed by numerical simulation of master equations. Due to the stochasticity in replication and compartment fission the best compartment types recur. An Eigen equation at the compartment level is set up and calculated. Even selfish template mutants cannot destroy the system though they make it less efficient. The genetic information of templates is evaluated at both levels, and the higher (compartment) level successfully constrains the lower (template) one. Compartmentation together with stochastic effects is sufficient to integrate information dispersed in competitive replicators. Compartment selection is considered to be group selection of replicators. Implications for the origin of life are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution
  • Kinetics
  • Mathematics
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Mutation
  • Phenotype
  • RNA / biosynthesis
  • Selection, Genetic*
  • Templates, Genetic


  • RNA