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article imageGene jumps across three domains of life

By Tim Sandle     Dec 7, 2014 in Science
Through a mechanism termed horizontal gene transfer, an antibacterial gene family has dispersed to a plant, an insect, several fungi, and an archaeon.
Horizontal gene transfer is a scientific term for the passing of DNA from one organism to another. This process is common among bacteria. Now comes news that this process has occurred between distantly related organisms, such as animals and bacteria.
This comes from a study published in the journal eLife. With the study, researchers demonstrated that an antibacterial gene family has made the rounds across the three domains of life, from bacteria to archaea and eukaryotes. Eukaryotes are more sophisticated types of cells found in fungi and plants (as distinct from prokaryotic cells, which are found in bacteria and archaea; archaea are like bacteria but with a unique biochemistry. Scientifically these microbes are classed in a separate biological kingdom.)
Researchers had long-wondered how archaea, which live near hydrothermal vents, compete for resources with neighboring bacteria. It now seems that certain archaea are capable of stealing genes from bacteria.
The finding is not just of academic interest for the results open up a new avenue for searching for antibiotics — in archaea.
The eLife research paper is titled "Antibacterial gene transfer across the tree of life."
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