First Steps in Eukaryogenesis: Physical Phenomena in the Origin and Evolution of Chromosome Structure

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Our present understanding of the origin and evolution of chromosomes differs considerably from current understanding of the origin and evolution of the cell itself. Chromosome origins have been less prominent in research, as the emphasis has not shifted so far appreciably from the phenomenon of primeval nucleic acid encapsulation to that of the origin of gene organization, expression, and regulation. In this work we discuss some reasons why preliminary steps in this direction are being taken. We have been led to examine properties that have contributed to raise the ancestral prokaryotic programmes to a level where we can appreciate in eukaryotes a clear departure from earlier themes in the evolution of the cell from the last common ancestor. We shift our point of view from evolution of cell morphology to the point of view of the genes. In particular, we focus attention on possible physical bases for the way transmission of information has evolved in eukaryotes, namely, the inactivation of whole chromosomes. The special case of the inactivation of the X chromosome in mammals is discussed, paying particular attention to the physical process of the spread of X inactivation in monotremes (platypus and echidna). When experimental data is unavailable some theoretical analysis is possible based on the idea that in certain cases collective phenomena in genetics, rather than chemical detail, are better correlates of complex chemical processes.

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