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Buds of the tree: the highway to the last universal common ancestor

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 July 2016

Savio Torres de Farias
Laboratório de Genética Evolutiva Paulo Leminsk, departamento de Biologia Molecular, Universidade Federal da Paraiba, João Pessoa, Paraiba, Brasil.
Francisco Prosdocimi
Laboratório de Biologia Teórica e de Sistemas, Instituto de Bioquímica Médica, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil. e-mail:


The last universal common ancestor (LUCA) has been considered as the branching point on which Bacteria, Archaea and Eukaryotes have diverged. However, the increased information relating to viruses’ genomes and the perception that many virus genes do not have homologs in other organisms opened a new discussion. Based on these facts, there has emerged the idea of an early LUCA that should be moved further into the past to include viruses, implicating that life should have originated before the appearance of cellular life forms. Another point of view from advocates of the RNA-world suggests that the origin of life happened a long time before organisms were capable of organizing themselves into cellular entities. Relevant data about the origin of ribosomes indicate that the catalytic unit of the large ribosomal subunit is what should actually be considered as the turning point that separated chemistry from biology. Other researchers seem to think that a tRNA was probably some sort of a strange attractor on which life has originated. Here we propose a theoretical synthesis that tries to provide a crosstalk among the theories and define important points on which the origin of life could have been originated and made more complex, taking into account gradualist assumptions. Thus, discussions involving the origin of biological activities in the RNA-world might lead into a world of progenotes on which viruses have been taken part until the appearance of the very first cells. Along this route of complexification, we identified some key points on which researchers may consider life as an emerging principle.

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