Origin of Species before Origin of Life: The Role of Speciation in Chemical Evolution

Abstract

<jats:p>Speciation, an evolutionary process by which new species form, is ultimately responsible for the incredible biodiversity that we observe on Earth every day. Such biodiversity is one of the critical features which contributes to the survivability of biospheres and modern life. While speciation and biodiversity have been amply studied in organismic evolution and modern life, it has not yet been applied to a great extent to understanding the evolutionary dynamics of primitive life. In particular, one unanswered question is at what point in the history of life did speciation as a phenomenon emerge in the first place. Here, we discuss the mechanisms by which speciation could have occurred before the origins of life in the context of chemical evolution. Specifically, we discuss that primitive compartments formed before the emergence of the last universal common ancestor (LUCA) could have provided a mechanism by which primitive chemical systems underwent speciation. In particular, we introduce a variety of primitive compartment structures, and associated functions, that may have plausibly been present on early Earth, followed by examples of both discriminate and indiscriminate speciation affected by primitive modes of compartmentalization. Finally, we discuss modern technologies, in particular, droplet microfluidics, that can be applied to studying speciation phenomena in the laboratory over short timescales. We hope that this discussion highlights the current areas of need in further studies on primitive speciation phenomena while simultaneously proposing directions as important areas of study to the origins of life.</jats:p>

Journal

  • Life

    Life 11 (2), 154-, 2021-02-17

    MDPI AG

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