In RNA-World scenarios for the origin of life, replication is catalyzed by polymerase ribozymes. Replicating RNA systems are subject to invasion by non-functional parasitic strands. It is well-known that there are two ways to avoid the destruction of the system by parasites: spatial clustering in models with limited diffusion, or group selection in protocells. Here, we compare computational models of replication in spatial models and protocells as closely as possible in order to determine the relative importance of these mechanisms in the RNA World. For the survival of the polymerases, the replication rate must be greater than a minimum threshold value, kmin
, and the mutation rate in replication must be less than a maximum value, Mmax
, which is known as the error threshold. For the protocell models, we find that kmin
is substantially lower and Mmax
is substantially higher than for the equivalent spatial models; thus, the survival of polymerases is much easier in protocells than on surfaces. The results depend on the maximum number of strands permitted in one protocell or one lattice site in the spatial model, and on whether replication is limited by the supply of monomers or the population size of protocells. The substantial advantages that are seen in the protocell models relative to the spatial models are robust to changing these details. Thus, cooperative polymerases with limited accuracy would have found it much easier to operate inside lipid compartments, and this suggests that protocells may have been a very early step in the development of life. We consider cases where parasites have an equal replication rate to polymerases, and cases where parasites multiply twice as fast as polymerases. The advantage of protocell models over spatial models is increased when the parasites multiply faster.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited