Bärbel Stadler, Peter Stadler

Paper #: 02-09-049

Template-dependent replication at the molecular level is the basis of reproduction in nature. A detailed understanding of the peculiarities of the chemical reaction kinetics associated with replication processes is therefore an indispensable prerequisite for any understanding of evolution at the molecular level. Networks of interacting self-replicating species can give rise to a wealth of different dynamical phenomena, from competitive exclusion to permanent coexistence, from global stability to multistability and chaotic dynamics. Nevertheless, there are some general principles that govern their overall behavior. We focus on the question to what extent the dynamics of replication can explain the accumulation of genetic information that eventually leads to the emergence of the first cell and hence the origin of life as we know it. A large class of ligation-based replication systems, which includes the experimentally available model systems for template-directed self-replication, is of particular interest because its dynamics bridge the gap between the survival of a single fittest species to the global coexistence of everything. In this intermediate regime the selection is weak enough to allow the coexistence of genetically unrelated replicators and strong enough to limit the accumulation of dysfunctional mutants.