The stepwise evolution of early life driven by energy conservation

James G. Ferry, Christopher H. House

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

100 Scopus citations


Two main theories have emerged for the origin and early evolution of life based on heterotrophic versus chemoautotrophic metabolisms. With the exception of a role for CO, the theories have little common ground. Here we propose an alternative theory for the early evolution of the cell which combines principal features of the widely disparate theories. The theory is based on the extant pathway for conversion of CO to methane and acetate, largely deduced from the genomic analysis of the archaeon Methanosarcina acetivorans. In contrast to current paradigms, we propose that an energy-conservation pathway was the major force which powered and directed the early evolution of the cell. We envision the proposed primitive energy-conservation pathway to have developed sometime after a period of chemical evolution but prior to the establishment of diverse protein-based anaerobic metabolisms. We further propose that energy conservation played the predominant role in the later evolution of anaerobic metabolisms which explains the origin and evolution of extant methanogenic pathways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1286-1292
Number of pages7
JournalMolecular biology and evolution
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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