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Microbes and Gene Swapping - How Common Is This?

  1. Oct 1, 2013 #1
    Microbes and Gene Swapping -- How Common Is This?

    The article Sub-zero heroes: extremophiles call salty Antarctic lakes home reporting about:

    "The halophilic (Greek for “salt-loving”) extremophiles in Deep Lake belong to a group of microbes called haloarchaea. Due to much higher rates of gene-swapping – or promiscuity – than normally observed in the natural world, many species in Deep Lake are able to benefit from the genes of others."​

    has prompted my question.

    I've read about gene swapping before, but I'm wondering how common is gene swapping? Does it just occur in specific types of microbes? Does it occur in plants and animals? Is this a mechanism that also affects DNA in plants and animals? I've been reading articles lately that relate changes in DNA to lifestyle, environment, etc., so I'm wondering if this is microbe driven or due to gene swapping?

    Thank you.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 1, 2013 #2
    "Gene-swapping" or rather horizontal gene transfer is quite a wide field of science: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horizontal_gene_transfer
    It was very important many times in evolution, currently prokaryotes do it all the time, e.g. to transfer drug resistance ... but there also many documented cases in eucaryote, e.g. regarding GMOs ...
  4. Oct 1, 2013 #3
    Thanks, jarekd.

    Ah, so the terminology is "Horizontal Gene Transfer". Thanks for the excellent link and sending me in right direction! Looks like a lot of transferring has been going on, ha, ha. Yes, I've read a lot about GMOs, of course, but didn't know much about natural gene swapping, aka (now using a more appropriate term) horizontal gene transfer.

    Again, thanks for taking the time to answer my inquiry. Very kind of you.
  5. Oct 29, 2013 #4
    That is extremely common. That's why bacteria are the fastest evolving organisms known to man.
  6. Oct 29, 2013 #5
  7. Oct 29, 2013 #6
    Thanks, Superposed_Cat.

    This brings to mind the PBS special that recently aired about the growing problem of drug resistant bacteria and at the same time pointing out that Pfizer is yet another major drug company that was stopping research and development of new traditional types of antibiotics. The program special seemed to indicate that the struggle against harmful bacteria was now switching to techniques that would directly alter the DNA of bacteria so as to circumvent the entire drug resistance process. I guess they are essentially using bacteria's own propensity to horizontally transfer genes as a way to control them.

    Again, thank you.
  8. Nov 1, 2013 #7
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