Preprint Hypothesis Version 1 Preserved in Portico This version is not peer-reviewed

The Origin(s) of Cell: Some Radical New Hypotheses

Version 1 : Received: 2 February 2020 / Approved: 4 February 2020 / Online: 4 February 2020 (05:27:46 CET)

How to cite: Tang, S. The Origin(s) of Cell: Some Radical New Hypotheses. Preprints 2020, 2020020039. Tang, S. The Origin(s) of Cell: Some Radical New Hypotheses. Preprints 2020, 2020020039.


The central mechanism of biological evolution, variation-selection-inheritance (VSI), is one of the most universal mechanisms known. Much of our understanding of VSI, however, has been dominated by the Neo-Darwinian Modern Synthesis with a rather narrow understanding of what constitutes variation, selection, and inheritance. This unduly narrow understanding of VSI might have been a key cause behind our failure to adequately explain some critical puzzles in biological evolution, from the origin of the first cell to the origin of the eukaryotes, the puzzling biology of metabolism, apoptosis, aging, and cancer in metazoan.I broaden our understanding of VSI, in a spirit that is somewhat similar to several recent contributions and then extend this broadened view of VSI to its natural starting point: the origin of the First Universal Cell Ancestor (FUCA). I advance three principal arguments. First, survival comes before replication. Before the coming of reproducer and replicator, there must be survivors, to paraphrase Szathmary and Maynard Smith (1997). Second, natural selection, especially the non-Darwinian kind, can operate without replication or even metabolism, as long as different molecules, complexes, and vesicles have differential survival rate within a system. Third, merger and acquisition, via breaking-and-re-encapsulation, endocytosis, endosymbiosis, and processes similar to them, had been a far more powerful force of variation and selection in the pre-Darwinian period of evolution that led to LUCA and long before eukaryogenesis. Endosymbiosis therefore had been a far more foundational force than even Lynn Margulis and many of her supporters have appreciated. Our thesis thus goes beyond Woese’s emphasis of horizontal gene transfer (HGT) and actually subsumes HGT with Margulis’ emphasis of endosymbiosis. Combing these three new perspectives with other perspectives and evidence sheds important new light upon the origin of FUCA, the singular water-shedding moment in the evolution of life.


LUCA; FUCA; horizontal biomolecule transfer; horizontal gene transfer


Biology and Life Sciences, Cell and Developmental Biology

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