, Volume 57, Issue 1 Supplement, pp S182-S189

An Overlooked Riddle of Life’s Origins: Energy-Dependent Nucleic Acid Unzipping

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Abstract

The imposing progress in understanding contemporary life forms on Earth and in manipulating them has not been matched by a comparable progress in understanding the origins of life. This paper argues that a crucial problem of unzipping of the double helix molecule of nucleic acid during its replication has been underrated, if not plainly overlooked, in the theories of life’s origin and evolution. A model is presented of how evolution may have solved the problem in its early phase. Similar to several previous models, the model envisages the existence of a protocell, in which osmotic disbalance is being created by accumulation of synthetic products resulting in expansion and division of the protocell. Novel in the model is the presence in the protocell of a double-stranded nucleic acid, with each of its two strands being affixed by its 3′-terminus to the opposite sides of the membrane of a protocell. In the course of the protocell expansion, osmotic force is utilized to pull the two strands longitudinally in opposite directions, unzipping the helix and partitioning the strands between the two daughter protocells. The model is also being used as a background for arguments of why life need operate in cycles. Many formal models of life’s origin and evolution have not taken into account the fact that logical possibility does not equal thermodynamic feasibility. A system of self-replication has to consist of both replicators and replicants.