Genetic escape pods

Microbes share and preserve their genetic material by releasing bodies that resemble viruses into the environment

Cristina Luiggi
Sep 30, 2010
Packaging random snippets of DNA into virus-like capsules known as gene transfer agents, or GTAs, may be a key way for marine bacteria to exchange genetic information, a new linkurl:paper; in __Science__ suggests.
Some GTAs resemble viruses that infect
bacteria such as Lambda phage

While this gene-swapping mechanism has been known for decades, the extent to which GTAs were relevant to microbes in the real world was unclear, having been observed in a limited number of species and almost exclusively inside microbiology labs. But a team of researchers, headed by University of South Florida marine microbiologist linkurl:John Paul,; demonstrated that GTAs isolated from lab-grown bacteria conferred antibiotic resistance to a wide range of microbes naturally growing in the warm waters of the Gulf Coast, and at a much higher rate than expected."This could represent a paradigm shift in how we view gene transfer in nature," said linkurl:Thaddeus Stanton,; a...
L.D. McDaniel, et al., "High frequency of horizontal gene transfer in the Oceans," Science, 330:50, 2010.

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to more than 35 years of archives, as well as TS Digest, digital editions of The Scientist, feature stories, and much more!
Already a member?