Coexistence and error propagation in pre-biotic vesicle models: A group selection approach

José F. Fontanari, Mauro Santos, Eörs Szathmáry

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37 Citations (Scopus)


Compartmentalization of unlinked, competing templates is widely accepted as a necessary step towards the evolution of complex organisms. However, preservation of information by templates confined to isolated vesicles of finite size faces much harder obstacles than by free templates: random drift allied to mutation pressure wipe out any template that does not replicate perfectly, no matter how small the error probability might be. In addition, drift alone hinders the coexistence of distinct templates in a same compartment. Here, we investigate the conditions for group selection to prevail over drift and mutation and hence to guarantee the maintenance and coexistence of distinct templates in a vesicle. Group selection is implemented through a vesicle survival probability that depends on the template composition. By considering the limit case of an infinite number of vesicles, each one carrying a finite number of templates, we were able to derive a set of recursion equations for the frequencies of vesicles with different template compositions. Numerical iteration of these recursions allows the exact characterization of the steady state of the vesicle population - a quasispecies of vesicles - thus revealing the values of the mutation and group selection intensities for which template coexistence is possible. Within the main assumption of the model - a fixed, finite or infinite, number of vesicles - we find no fundamental impediment to the coexistence of an arbitrary number of template types with the same replication rate inside a vesicle, except of course for the vesicle capacity. Group selection in the form of vesicle selection is a must for compartmentalized primordial genetic systems even in the absence of intra-genomic competition of different templates. © 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)247-256
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 21 Mar 2006


  • Compartmentalization
  • Error threshold
  • Group selection
  • Package models
  • Pre-biotic evolution


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