Origins of life and evolution of the biosphere

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 155–169

How many genes to start with? A computer simulation about the origin of life

  • Ursula Niesert

DOI: 10.1007/BF01808243

Cite this article as:
Niesert, U. Origins Life Evol Biosphere (1987) 17: 155. doi:10.1007/BF01808243


A geneticist's view on the origin of life would focus on individual nucleic acid molecules rather than on their concentrations, on stochastics rather than on differential equations.

The ‘package model’ envisages primordial compartments that contain ensembles of primordial genes. These are replicated independently from each other. During package fission they are distributed to two daughter packages. Packages with a complete ensemble of genes can continue to propagate. However, mutations as well as the stochastic nature of replication and package fission occasionally cause arising packages to miss genes from the ensemble, thus resulting in the death of those packages.

A computer simulation, considering the complementarity of RNA as well as abortive termination of replication, yielded results that are similar to those of a preliminary simulation irrespective of these parameters: the results suggest that life could not have started with more than 3 genes, or else the primordial replicase would have to achieve at least a reduction of the replicational error rate by a factor of 13 and a reduction of undue chain termination by a factor of 10 to 25.

Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ursula Niesert
    • 1
  1. 1.Institut für Biologie IIIFreiburg

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