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.


After several days. primitive atmospheric conditions. and H2. CH4. agvargas 01. organic molecules including amino acids were among the products collected. Water is heated in a closed system containing NH3.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. click to see bigger picture Spark-discharge apparatus type used in the Miller and Urey experiment demonstrating the formation of organic compounds in abiotic. An electric discharge is passed through the mixture of gases simulating lightning.VI.2006 .

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

VI. al. Principles of Biochemistry 2nd ed.2006 . agvargas 01. Worth Publishers. Figure from Lehninger. 1993. Albert et.From macromolecules come supramolecular complexes which now become integral parts and components of living cells. New York.

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

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

Belmont. Lehninger. Biochemistry 5th ed.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. Farrell. and Shawn O. Worth Publishers. Sources of Figures: Campbell. Principles of Biochemistry 2nd ed. Mary K. Albert et. 2006. CA. New York.VI. Thomson Brooks/Cole.1993. al.2006 . agvargas 01.

agvargas 01. 2006. Belmont. Thomson Brooks/Cole.Of the macromolecules in present-day cells. Campbell. CA.VI. including the polymerization of nucleotides. Nucleic acids can serve as templates for their own synthesis as a result of specific base pairing between complementary nucleotides. “A critical step in understanding molecular evolution was thus reached in the early 1980s. Biochemistry 5th ed. Mary K. and Shawn O. when it was discovered in the laboratories of Sid Altman and Tom Cech that RNA is capable of catalyzing a number of chemical reactions.2006 . only the nucleic acids are capable of directing their own self-replication. RNA is thus uniquely able both to serve as a template for and to catalyze its own replication. Farrell.

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

agvargas 01. Thomson Brooks/Cole. and Shawn O. Farrell. Biochemistry 5th ed. Figures from Campbell.VI.The following figures show the stages in the evolution of a system of self-replicating RNA molecules. At each stage. Mary K. more complexity appears in the group of RNAs. leading eventually to the synthesis of proteins as more effective catalysts. CA. 2006.2006 . Belmont.

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