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The Evolutionary Origins of Life and Death$
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Pierre M. Durand

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780226747620

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226747934.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 25 September 2021

The Theory of Life’s Origins

The Theory of Life’s Origins

(p.25) 3 The Theory of Life’s Origins
The Evolutionary Origins of Life and Death

Pierre M. Durand

University of Chicago Press

Theoretical studies (philosophy, mathematical modelling, computer simulations, genomics and bioinformatics) have had a profound influence on our understanding of life’s origins. Replication-first and metabolism-first approaches have dominated the thinking, but for evolutionists one of the first hurdles to overcome was to explain how small replicators gave rise to larger ones. The issue, sometimes known as Eigen’s paradox, arose because the earliest replicators were unable to copy themselves with sufficient fidelity that could lead to sustainable populations of larger replicators from which life could take hold (the error catastrophe problem). The theories concerning quasispecies and hypercycles have to some degree addressed this issue, but significant problems remain. Compartmentalization and group selection, in one form or another, are presented as essential explanatory frameworks for overcoming this limitation. Gánti’s chemoton is an abstract protocell that brings together many of the philosophical, mathematical, and evolutionary questions regarding metabolism, hereditary, and replication issues, as well as compartmentalization into a self-sustaining chemical system. Evolutionary genomics complements the theoretical works and points to a fluid centroid of minimal gene sets, the proposed last universal common ancestor (LUCA) from which a tree of life emerged.

Keywords:   replicator, Eigen’s paradox, quasispecies, hypercycles, compartmentalization, group selection, Gánti, chemoton, tree of life, LUCA

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