Ecology and Evolution in the RNA World Dynamics and Stability of Prebiotic Replicator Systems

Life (Basel). 2017 Nov 27;7(4):48. doi: 10.3390/life7040048.


As of today, the most credible scientific paradigm pertaining to the origin of life on Earth is undoubtedly the RNA World scenario. It is built on the assumption that catalytically active replicators (most probably RNA-like macromolecules) may have been responsible for booting up life almost four billion years ago. The many different incarnations of nucleotide sequence (string) replicator models proposed recently are all attempts to explain on this basis how the genetic information transfer and the functional diversity of prebiotic replicator systems may have emerged, persisted and evolved into the first living cell. We have postulated three necessary conditions for an RNA World model system to be a dynamically feasible representation of prebiotic chemical evolution: (1) it must maintain and transfer a sufficient diversity of information reliably and indefinitely, (2) it must be ecologically stable and (3) it must be evolutionarily stable. In this review, we discuss the best-known prebiotic scenarios and the corresponding models of string-replicator dynamics and assess them against these criteria. We suggest that the most popular of prebiotic replicator systems, the hypercycle, is probably the worst performer in almost all of these respects, whereas a few other model concepts (parabolic replicator, open chaotic flows, stochastic corrector, metabolically coupled replicator system) are promising candidates for development into coherent models that may become experimentally accessible in the future.

Keywords: RNA-world; coexistence; ecological stability; evolutionary stability; evolvability; modelling the origin of life; ribozymes; template replication.

Publication types

  • Review