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.


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

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

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

2006 . agvargas 01.VI.One of the important molecules of life is what we know as genes – but are actually chemically. deoxyribonucleic acids (DNA) – that define biological structure and maintain cellular integrity. 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). (RNA). that increases rates of cellular reactions producing large numbers of complex molecules.

Protein RNA DNA agvargas 01.2006 . inorganic ions and a large array of small organic molecules. water.VI.This trio of macromolecules – DNA. The rest are polysaccharides. RNA and proteins – is present in all cells.

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

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

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

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

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