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Genetic escape pods

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

Cristina Luiggi
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;http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/330/6000/50 in __Science__ suggests.
Some GTAs resemble viruses that infect
bacteria such as Lambda phage

Image:Flickr/ACJ1
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,;http://www.marine.usf.edu/faculty/john-paul.shtml 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,;http://www.ars.usda.gov/pandp/people/people.htm?personid=44895 a...
L.D. McDaniel, et al., "High frequency of horizontal gene transfer in the Oceans," Science, 330:50, 2010.



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