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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Spatial aspects of prebiotic replicator coexistence and community stability in a surface-bound RNA world model

Balázs Könnyű12* and Tamás Czárán3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Plant Systemtics, Ecology and Theoretical Biology, Eötvös Lorand University, H-1117 Pázmány Péter sétány 1/c, Budapest, Hungary

2 Parmenides Foundation, Kirchplatz 1, D-82049 Munich/Pullach, Germany

3 Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Eötvös Loránd University Research Group in Theoretical Biology and Evolutionary Ecology, H-1117 Pázmány Péter sétány 1/c, Budapest, Hungary

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2013, 13:204  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-13-204

Published: 22 September 2013



The coexistence of macromolecular replicators and thus the stability of presumed prebiotic replicator communities have been shown to critically depend on spatially constrained catalytic cooperation among RNA-like modular replicators. The necessary spatial constraints might have been supplied by mineral surfaces initially, preceding the more effective compartmentalization in membrane vesicles which must have been a later development of chemical evolution.


Using our surface-bound RNA world model – the Metabolic Replicator Model (MRM) platform – we show that the mobilities on the mineral substrate surface of both the macromolecular replicators and the small molecules of metabolites they produce catalytically are the key factors determining the stable persistence of an evolvable metabolic replicator community.


The effects of replicator mobility and metabolite diffusion on different aspects of replicator coexistence in MRM are determined, including the maximum attainable size of the metabolic replicator system and its resistance to the invasion of parasitic replicators. We suggest a chemically plausible hypothetical scenario for the evolution of the first protocell starting from the surface-bound MRM system.

Prebiotic replicators; Coexistence; RNA world; Parasite; Metabolic model; Prebiotic genome size