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, its 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 UAs 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.
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