In the beginning was an ecosystem: The onset of evolution at the origin of life

In the beginning was an ecosystem: The onset of evolution at the origin of life

  • Date: Jun 22, 2020
  • Time: 16:00 - 17:00
  • Speaker: Prof. David Baum, University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA
  • please see https://botany.wisc.edu/staff/baum-david/
  • Location: virtual platform
  • Host: Paul Rainey
In the beginning was an ecosystem: The onset of evolution at the origin of life

A burning scientific question is how adaptive evolution, the only mechanism known to be able to generate increasing complexity over time, can initiate during the origin of life. Over the last few decades it has become increasingly clear that the first evolver was not a single, self-replicating molecule. Instead, evolution must have emerged from the dynamic, often non-linear interactions among a set of chemicals in a driven environment (i.e., one that receives a constant flux of food or energy). Our research then exploits the fact that these "chemical ecosystems” often contain potential motifs, autocatalytic cycles, which (once "seeded") behave individually very much like species in ecological communities. Guided by these parallels, one can reconceptualize “adaptive evolution” as environmentally sensitive, historically contingent, open-ended succession and simulate its spontaneous emergence in silico, without invoking any kind of genetic encoding system. I will argue that such a framework solves many of the biggest problems in the origin of life field, including the emergence of polymers, genetic encoding, and the cell habit. Furthermore, this way of thinking supports a new class of laboratory experiments that use experimental evolution to both enrich for self-propagating chemical sets and to detect potentially evolvable chemistries in open chemical ecosystems. if you would like to participate, please contact Britta Baron for link and password (baron@evolbio.mpg.de).

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