New cellular evolution theory rejects single cell beginning

New cellular evolution theory rejects single cell beginning: "In the late 1970s Woese identified the Archaea, a group of microorganisms that thrive primarily in extremely harsh environments, as a separate life form from the planet�s two long-accepted lines � the typical bacteria and the eukaryotes (creatures like animals, plants, fungi and certain unicellular organisms, whose cells have a visible nucleus). His discovery eventually led to a revision of biology books around the world.

The three primary divisions of life now comprise the familiar bacteria and eukaryotes, along with the Archaea. Woese argues that these three life forms evolved separately but exchanged genes, which he refers to as inventions, along the way. He rejects the widely held notion that endosymbiosis (which led to chloroplasts and mitochondria) was the driving force in the evolution of the eukaryotic cell itself or that it was a determining factor in cellular evolution, because that approach assumes a beginning with fully evolved cells.

"The individual cell designs that evolved in this way are nevertheless fundamentally distinct, because the initial conditions in each case are somewhat different," Woese wrote in his introduction. "As a cell design becomes more complex and interconnected a critical point is reached where a more integrated cellular organization emerges, and vertically generated novelty can and does assume greater importance."Woese calls this critical point in a cell’s evolutionary course the Darwinian Threshold, a time when a genealogical trail, or the origin of a species, begins. From this point forward, only relatively minor changes can occur in the evolution of the organization of a given type of cell.To understand cellular evolution, one must go back beyond the Darwinian Threshold, Woese said.His argument is built around evidence "from the three main cellular information processing systems" – translation, transcription and replication – and he suggests that cellular evolution progressed in that order, with translation leading the way.The pivotal development in the evolution of modern protein-based cells, Woese said, was the invention of symbolic representation on the molecular level – that is, the capacity to "translate" nucleic acid sequence into amino acid sequence.

The advent of translation, he said, caused various archaic nucleic-based entities to begin changing into proteinaceous ones, emerging as forerunners of modern cells as genes and other individual components were exchanged among them. The three modern types of cellular organization represent a mosaic of relationships: In some ways one pair of them will appear highly similar; in others a different pair will.This, Woese said, is exactly what would be expected had they individually begun as distinct entities, but during their subsequent evolutions they had engaged in genetic cross-talk – they had indulged in a commerce of genes."

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