Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Where bacteria get their genes


Bacteria acquired up to 90 percent of their genetic material from distantly related bacteria species, according to new research from The University of Arizona in Tucson.

The finding has important biomedical implications because such gene-swapping, or lateral gene transfer, is the way many pathogenic bacteria pick up antibiotic resistance or become more virulent. "To maintain effective treatments and develop new antibiotics, it’s important to monitor the rates and patterns of lateral gene transfer," said team member Howard Ochman, a UA professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics and a member of UA’s BIO5 Institute.

The research also solves a long-standing evolutionary puzzle. Many scientists have argued that drawing traditional family trees does not make sense for bacteria, because their genomes represent a mix of genetic material from their parental cells and from other species of bacteria.

Ochman and his colleagues’ work shows that bacterial lineages can still be traced by considering only the "traditional" forms of genetic inheritance. The widespread exchange of genes does not blur the line of descent because the acquired genes get lost from the genome at a later point or, if they do persist, the bacteria then transmit them to their offspring.

Being able to classify bacteria is crucial for medicine, Ochman said. "If you go to the doctor with strep throat he can be pretty certain that it’s the result of an infection with a species of Streptococcus and can therefore prescribe an appropriate antibiotic. If you couldn’t classify bacteria because they have genes from all over, doctors wouldn’t be able to do this."

The research report is published in the current issue of PLoS Biology, available on Ochman’s coauthors are Nancy Moran, UA Regents’ Professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and BIO5 member, and Emmanuelle Lerat, now at Universite Claude Bernard (Lyon, France) and Vincent Daubin, now at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) in France. The research was funded by the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.

Lateral gene transfer, unique to the bacterial world, has long been recognized as common. But until now scientists did not know which of a bacterium’s genes came from lateral gene transfer and which had been inherited from its parent.

In their study, the scientists focused on the best-studied group of bacteria, the Gamma-Proteobacteria. It includes many human pathogens, including Salmonella, Shigella, pathogenic E. coli, and Pseudomonas.

Ochman’s team compared the bacterial species by analyzing their genomic sequence data. The researchers then computed family trees, taking into account the acquired genes, and matched the trees to an established reference tree. For all genes, the match was about 95 percent. This showed that the widespread mechanism of lateral gene transfer does not interfere with the traditional approach of using family trees to infer relationships. Ochman’s team found that only 205 genes of Gamma-Proteobacteria’s approximately 7,205 genes are shared by all species. The vast majority of genes found in the group comes from lateral gene transfer. "Most of these occur in one or a few species only," Ochman said. "But these are the genes that make bacteria different from each other."

Most commonly, genes are transmitted by bacteriophages, viruses that specifically hijack bacteria cells. Like tiny syringes, phages inject their own genetic material into the host cell, forcing it to produce new phages. During such an event, genes from the bacterial genome can be incorporated into the newly made phages. They inject their newly modified genetic load into other bacteria. This way, bacteriophages act as shuttles, taking up DNA from one bacterium and dumping it into another. Bacteria can also make contact by tiny connection tubes through which they exchange pieces of DNA. They can also take up genetic material from the environment.

Ochman thinks the team’s findings will stir new research in bacterial evolution. "It should be exciting to see whether gene transfer has been so widespread in other groups of bacteria, too."

Daniel Stolte | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht First time-lapse footage of cell activity during limb regeneration
25.10.2016 | eLife

nachricht Phenotype at the push of a button
25.10.2016 | Institut für Pflanzenbiochemie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

Fluorescent holography: Upending the world of biological imaging

25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Etching Microstructures with Lasers

25.10.2016 | Process Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>