A new theory on the evolution of life

03 November 2017
Associate Professor Peter Wills, Department of Physics and Centre for Computational Evolution
CCE theoretical biologist Peter Wills

How life arose from the primoridal muck is a question that Centre for Computational Evolution theoretical biologist Peter Wills and University of North Carolina biochemist Charles Carter have been pondering.

Their work has led them to offer a contradictory hypothesis, that states that life originated from an intimate partnership between nucleic acids and small proteins called peptides.

This new Wills-Carter theory on the origin of genetic coding posits that the peptide-RNA hypothesis of ancestral enzymic aaRS is more probable than the dominating RNA-world hypothesis (that life originated from nucleic acids and only later evolved to include proteins).

Wills and Carter suggest that the primordial soup gave rise to two enzyme ancestors which are coded by complementary strands of a short double helix. The feedback loop between the RNA and the peptides provided a level of robustness for the system that enabled it to evolve further. 

They used mathematical modelling, simulations and enzymic studies to conclusively demonstrate the reality of the phenomena. 

The co-authors have published two papers and their theory has featured in ScienceDaily.

Papers:

  1. Charles W Carter, Peter R Wills. Interdependence, Reflexivity, Fidelity, Impedance Matching, and the Evolution of Genetic Coding. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 2017; DOI: 10.1093/molbev/msx265 
  2. Peter R. Wills, Charles W. Carter. Insuperable problems of the genetic code initially emerging in an RNA world. Biosystems, 2017; DOI: 10.1016/j.biosystems.2017.09.006