The Role of Evolution and the Molecules

of Life

Evolution is the theory that all living things
have changed in response to environmental
conditions by the natural selection of randomly
occurring mutations, developing from the simplest
forms to complex forms which are more prolific
and stronger, due to their better adaptation to
their environment.
Charles Darwin provided this insight that
establishes a great chain connecting the distant
past to the present.
At the molecular level, evolution is the history
of the emergence of more complex biomolecules
from simpler organic monomeric units or even
from inorganic counterparts.


primitive atmospheric conditions. Water is heated in a closed system containing NH3. An electric discharge is passed through the mixture of gases simulating lightning. and H2. organic molecules including amino acids were among the products collected.The well known Miller-Urey experiment showed that simple components can react abiotically (or in the absence of life) to give rise to biologically important compounds – such as components of proteins and nucleic acids. agvargas 01. CH4.2006 . After several days. click to see bigger picture Spark-discharge apparatus type used in the Miller and Urey experiment demonstrating the formation of organic compounds in abiotic.VI.

macromolecules are formed spontaneously from monomeric building blocks as shown below. Principles of Biochemistry 2nd ed.VI.After the spontaneous synthesis of organic molecules. al. Worth Publishers. Albert et. the next step in evolution was the formation of macromolecules.2006 . Under prebiotic conditions. Figure from Lehninger. New York. 1993. agvargas 01.

Principles of Biochemistry 2nd ed.From macromolecules come supramolecular complexes which now become integral parts and components of living cells. New York. Albert et. Worth Publishers. Figure from Lehninger. al. agvargas 01. 1993.2006 .VI.

agvargas 01. (RNA). that increases rates of cellular reactions producing large numbers of complex molecules. particularly catalytic activity. These genes encode proteins that make up cellular structures and carry out many activities in the cell. The “decoding” or expression of coded genetic info in DNA into proteins is made possible by another molecule – the ribonucleic acids (RNA). deoxyribonucleic acids (DNA) – that define biological structure and maintain cellular integrity.VI.2006 .One of the important molecules of life is what we know as genes – but are actually chemically.

Protein RNA DNA agvargas 01.VI. The rest are polysaccharides.2006 . RNA and proteins – is present in all cells. water. inorganic ions and a large array of small organic molecules.This trio of macromolecules – DNA.

and Shawn O. 2006. Biochemistry 5th ed. agvargas 01. al.1993. CA. Lehninger. Thomson Brooks/Cole. Albert et.2006 . New York. Principles of Biochemistry 2nd ed. Mary K. Belmont. Farrell.VI. Worth Publishers. Sources of Figures: Campbell.The central dogma of molecular biology illustrated in the figure below shows the organizing principle in the flow of genetic information: DNA to RNA to protein.

Belmont. Mary K. RNA is thus uniquely able both to serve as a template for and to catalyze its own replication. Campbell. Farrell. “A critical step in understanding molecular evolution was thus reached in the early 1980s. 2006. including the polymerization of nucleotides. and Shawn O.VI.Of the macromolecules in present-day cells. CA. agvargas 01.2006 . when it was discovered in the laboratories of Sid Altman and Tom Cech that RNA is capable of catalyzing a number of chemical reactions. only the nucleic acids are capable of directing their own self-replication. Biochemistry 5th ed. Nucleic acids can serve as templates for their own synthesis as a result of specific base pairing between complementary nucleotides. Thomson Brooks/Cole.

G.) Link to RNA-world Hypothesis agvargas 01. MA. RNA is generally believed to have been the initial genetic system.VI. The Cell : A Molecular Approach.Consequently. Inc.2006 .” (Source: Cooper. M. Ordered interactions between RNA and amino acids then evolved into the present-day genetic code. Sunderland. 2000. and DNA eventually replaced RNA as the genetic material. and an early stage of chemical evolution is thought to have been based on self-replicating RNA molecules a period of evolution known as the RNA world. Sinauer Associates.. 2nd ed.

2006.VI.2006 . Mary K. CA.The following figures show the stages in the evolution of a system of self-replicating RNA molecules. At each stage. Figures from Campbell. leading eventually to the synthesis of proteins as more effective catalysts. agvargas 01. Belmont. Biochemistry 5th ed. more complexity appears in the group of RNAs. Farrell. Thomson Brooks/Cole. and Shawn O.

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