Extant life uses two kinds of linear biopolymers that mutually control their own production, as well as the cellular metabolism and the production and homeostatic maintenance of other biopolymers. Nucleic acids are linear polymers composed of a relatively low structural variety of monomeric residues, and thus a low diversity per accessed volume. Proteins are more compact linear polymers that dispose of a huge compositional diversity even at the monomeric level, and thus bear a much higher catalytic potential. The fine-grained diversity of proteins makes an unambiguous information transfer from protein templates too error-prone, so they need to be resynthesized in every generation. But proteins can catalyse both their own reproduction as well as the efficient and faithful replication of nucleic acids, which resolves in a most straightforward way an issue termed “Eigen’s paradox”. Here the importance of the existence of both kinds of linear biopolymers is discussed in the context of the emergence of cellular life, be it for the historic orgin of life on Earth, on some other habitable planet, or in the test tube. An immediate consequence of this analysis is the necessity for translation to appear early during the evolution of life.
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