Ruiz Mirazo, K., Briones, C., de la Escosura, A. 2017. Chemical roots of biological evolution: the origins of life as a process of development of autonomous functional systems. Open Biology, 7, 4, DOI: 10.1098/rsob.170050
In recent years, an extension of the Darwinian framework is being considered for the study of prebiotic chemical evolution, shifting the attention from homogeneous populations of naked molecular species to populations of heterogeneous, compartmentalized and functionally integrated assemblies of molecules. Several implications of this shift of perspective are analysed in this critical review, both in terms of the individual units, which require an adequate characterization as self-maintaining systems with an internal organization, and also in relation to their collective and long-term evolutionary dynamics, based on competition, collaboration and selection processes among those complex individuals. On these lines, a concrete proposal for the set of molecular control mechanisms that must be coupled to bring about autonomous functional systems, at the interface between chemistry and biology, is provided.