Moderate sex between protocells can balance between a decrease in assortment load and an increase in parasite spread
Journal of Theoretical Biology
Sexual reproduction is widespread in nature despite the different kinds of cost that it entails. We do not know exactly when the first sexual process took place and especially why it was beneficial at first. It is clearer why sex is advantageous for the prokaryotes and eukaryotes but the benefit of sex for protocells with individually replicating ribozymes is not yet fully understood. In this context sex is the simple horizontal gene transfer among two protocells that undergo transient fusion.
... transient fusion. Many authors argue that horizontal gene transfer (HGT) was very common in the early stage of evolution. However, HGT is a risky mechanism considering both the disruption of optimal compositions and the spread of parasites among protocells. In order to test the effects of HGT on the fitness of a protocell population, we explored by numerical simulations those conditions under which fusion might have been beneficial. We investigated multiple conceivable types of fusion in the stochastic corrector model framework and we considered the spread of parasites in every case. Protocells contain up to five species of unlinked, essential ribozymes; if a protocell has the same amount of each, it reaches maximum fitness. Fusion is dangerous not only due to the spread of parasites but also because it can ruin the cells with balanced ribozyme composition. We show that fusion can restore the ribozyme composition of the protocells under certain circumstances (high gene count, intermediate split size and low rate of fusion) and thus it can decrease the effect of the genetic load. Fusion could have been a useful early mechanism in contributing to the reliable coexistence of the different ribozymes before the spread of the chromosomes.