An article was published summarising the theoretical evolutionary biology research of Hungarian scientists in one of the world’s most prestigious scientific journals in the world, Nature Review Chemistry.
One of the most exciting questions of biology and humankind that even has implications beyond natural sciences is how life started; in the words of Albert Szentgyörgyi, “the living state of matter”, 24 reports. It is generally very hard to reconstruct the events that took place about two and a half billion years ago because there are no fossils that survived and there are no traces of early life forms left.
The most important thing in the search of how inanimate materials suddenly became living organisms is the theory of evolution, which plays an important role not only in biological but also in complex chemical systems;
the structures that better adapted to a given environment and could reproduce themselves faster survived.
RNA molecules were probably among the most important elements in the emergence of life. These DNA-like molecules, which still play an important role in almost every organism today, are easy to copy and thus they reproduce. This means that Darwinian evolution theory is already operational in the population of RNA molecules.
With the increase of chemical complexity driven by evolution, highly complex chemical systems emerged, which could easily be called ‘living’. This is the process which leads from chemical to biological evolution, and this is how life appeared on Earth.
If the origin of the process is considered, any living organism – including us – is simply just a complex chemical, self-reproducing automaton.
However, there were many things that hindered the increase of chemical complexity; at first, this biochemical machine did not copy correctly, so it ended up with many faulty and unsuitable copies. Interestingly, even these rudimentary chemical systems created the possibility of cheating and selfishness, but they also created the opportunity for these systems to cooperate at the molecular level, so
the possibility of cooperation and competition were present at the same time.
The article published in Nature Review Chemistry presents the results of the last three decades of the ELKH Centre for Ecological Research, whose director-general and widely recognised researcher is Eörs Szathmáry. The article is also supplemented by experimental results from foreign research groups.
The peculiarity of the article – of which the Hungarian co-authors are Tamás Czárán, Ádám Kun, and András Szilágyi – is that theoretical and experimental thinking are present together. This means that the progression of the thought process can be followed, and it could be observed how the development of biochemical methods proved previous theoretical models created by the help of computers over decades ago.