Causation and the origin of life. Metabolism or replication first?

Department of Chemistry, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheva 84105, Israel.
Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres (Impact Factor: 1.77). 07/2004; 34(3):307-21. DOI: 10.1023/B:ORIG.0000016446.51012.bc
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT The conceptual gulf that separates the 'metabolism first' and 'replication first' mechanisms for the emergence of life continues to cloud the origin of life debate. In the present paper we analyze this aspect of the origin of life problem and offer arguments in favor of the 'replication first' school. Utilizing Wicken's two-tier approach to causation we argue that a causal connection between replication and metabolism can only be demonstrated if replication would have preceded metabolism. In conjunction with existing empirical evidence and theoretical reasoning, our analysis concludes that there is no substantive evidence for a 'metabolism first' mechanism for life's emergence, while a coherent case can be made for the 'replication first' group of mechanisms. The analysis reaffirms our conviction that life is an extreme expression of kinetic control, and that the emergence of metabolic pathways can be understood by considering life as a manifestation of 'replicative chemistry'.

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    ABSTRACT: In memoriam Jeffrey S. Wicken (1942-2002)-the evolutionarily minded biochemist, who in the 1970/80s strived for a synthesis of biological and physical theories to fathom the tentative origins of life. Several integrative concepts are worth remembering from Wicken's legacy. (i) Connecting life's origins and complex organization to a preexisting physical world demands a thermodynamically sound transition. (ii) Energetic 'charging' of the prebiosphere must precede the emergence of biological organization. (iii) Environmental energy gradients are exploited progressively, approaching maximum interactive structure and minimum dissipation. (iv) Dynamic self-assembly of prebiotic organic matter is driven by hydrophobic tension between water and amphiphilic building blocks, such as aggregating peptides from non-polar amino acids and base stacking in nucleic acids. (v) The dynamics of autocatalytic self-organization are facilitated by a multiplicity of weak interactions, such as hydrogen bonding, within and between macromolecular assemblies. (vi) The coevolution of (initially uncoded) proteins and nucleic acids in energy-coupled and metabolically active so-called 'microspheres' is more realistic as a kinetic transition model of primal biogenesis than 'hypercycle replication' theories for nucleic acid replicators on their own. All these considerations blend well with the current understanding that sunlight UV-induced photo-electronic excitation of colloidal metal sulfide particles appears most suitable as a prebiotic driver of organic synthesis reactions, in tight cooperation with organic, phase-separated, catalytic 'microspheres'. On the 'continuist vs. miraculist' schism described by Iris Fry for origins-of-life considerations (Table 1), Wicken was a fervent early protagonist of holistic 'continuist' views and agenda.
    12/2012; 2(4):323-63. DOI:10.3390/life2040323
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    ABSTRACT: The effects of the addition of sugars, long-tailed n-alkyl pyranosides, n-alkyl glycerol ethers and n-alcohols on the properties of di-n-hexadecyldimethylammonium bromide (DHAB) vesicles have been studied. Properties that were examined include the stability, morphology, phase of the tails, and catalytic rate acceleration of the unimolecular decarboxylation of the 6-nitrobenzisoxazole-3-carboxylate anion (6-NBIC). The kinetic data were analyzed on the basis of the pseudophase model and show a rate acceleration of a factor of about 1000 relative to the reaction in water. Upon addition of most additives an inhibiting effect on the decarboxylation reaction of 6-NBIC is observed relative to the reaction in vesicles without any additive. The largest inhibition was observed in the case of cholesterol. Contrastingly, n-dodecyl-β-maltoside (in the spherical vesicle region) and trehalose accelerate the reaction. The activation parameters show that the most significant contribution to the Gibbs energy of activation is the enthalpic factor, with a partly compensating entropic contribution. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
    Journal of Physical Organic Chemistry 04/2006; 19(4). DOI:10.1002/poc.1028 · 1.23 Impact Factor


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