Scientists place 500-million-year-old gene in modern organism

18

It’s a project 500 million years in the making. Only this time, instead of playing on a movie screen in Jurassic Park, it’s happening in a lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology.


Using a process called paleo-experimental evolution, Georgia Tech researchers have resurrected a 500-million-year-old gene from bacteria and inserted it into modern-day Escherichia coli(E. coli) bacteria. This bacterium has now been growing for more than 1,000 generations, giving the scientists a front row seat to observe evolution in action.

“This is as close as we can get to rewinding and replaying the molecular tape of life,” said scientist Betül Kaçar, a NASA astrobiology postdoctoral fellow in Georgia Tech’s NASA Center for Ribosomal Origins and Evolution. “The ability to observe an ancient gene in a modern organism as it evolves within a modern cell allows us to see whether the evolutionary trajectory once taken will repeat itself or whether a life will adapt following a different path.”

In 2008, Kaçar’s postdoctoral advisor, Associate Professor of Biology Eric Gaucher, successfully determined the ancient genetic sequence of Elongation Factor-Tu (EF-Tu), an essential protein in E. coli. EFs are one of the most abundant proteins in bacteria, found in all known cellular life and required for bacteria to survive. That vital role made it a perfect protein for the scientists to answer questions about evolution.

Written By: PhysOrg
continue to source article at phys.org

18 COMMENTS

  1. My wife usually throws my jeans away well before the 500 million year mark.

    I just hope these scientists know what they are doing. I’m a lot more concerned about rogue bacteria in the wild, than about T Rex running wild in leafy suburbia.

  2. “Among them, we want to know if an organism’s history limits its future
    and if evolution always leads to a single, defined point or whether
    evolution has multiple solutions to a given problem.”

    The question “we want to know if an organism’s history limits its future” is indeed an interesting one.  The second, not so much.  I’m fairly confident that evolution does not always lead to a single defined point, and indeed there are multiple solutions to a given problem.

    This does seem to be the sort of research that should be handled with care.  I suppose I’ve seen too many movies based on the writings of the late Michael Crichton, and am being naive or paranoid, but a new variant of e coli created courtesy of commingling of ancient and modern DNA sounds like the premise of a medium-budget Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich thriller. 

  3. This is very interesting work. I would not worry about the Crichtonesque phantoms; the bacteria are modern with a single gene addition, which slowed them down such that they would be unlikely competitors re the other modern microorganisms. The reverse would be the case for T-Rex or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Velociraptor” rel=”nofollow” title=”Sure would be great to be able to put a picture in here”>Velociraptor.

  4. Can someone explain how they got the ancient gene?  Is DNA stable enough to sample accurately after 500 million years?  Or they just find this gene in modern creatures and project that it must have come from a very old common ancestor?

  5. Relax. E.coli is routinely used everyday, with people adding genes for this, that and the other to it. It’s very safe; laboratory strains are attenuated and for all intents and purposes cannot exist outside of the laboratory.

  6. Well, it depends on the scale. As Ben Elton put it in his comedy novel “Stark” (paraphrasing): it may well be that nuclear reactors fail disastrously only once in a million years, but what happens when there are a million of them? The provisions and consideration that have been put in so far to prevent escape of modified organisms are great and well suited to lab work. But commercial pressures could easily lead to them being misapplied. That’s exactly what happened in the nuclear industry http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/ada… , and what led to the design used in Fukushima and three mile island, and arguably applies to the contemporary Diable Canyon reactor built over a fault in California http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D…. 

  7. There are no commercial pressures here. This is carefully controlled lab work, as part of an experiment to watch evolution in action. This isn’t being done on a mass scale, or anything of the sort. I appreciate there’s concern that genetic alterations going out-of-control could cause a big issue, but in this instance such concerns are unrealistic. There are thorough risk assessments before any project can get underway, and if there are safety concerns then the work must be carried out at a higher level of bio-security (as was the case with the recent work regarding H5N1). 

  8. What if I have a different faith to yours? Would my deity not get credited with creation? 

    If you are going to throw down a challenge to scientists you should also then be able to provide scientific evidence to back up your worldview.

  9. “The ability to observe an ancient gene in a modern organism as it
    evolves within a modern cell allows us to see whether the evolutionary
    trajectory once taken will repeat itself or whether a life will adapt
    following a different path.”

    May it be both, depending on the gene? I wouldn’t be suprised if they find, over the course of many trials, some deviation and some consistency with the evolutionary trajectory.

  10. ” There are thorough risk assessments before any project can get underway, and if there are safety concerns then the work must be carried out at a higher level of bio-security”

    Um…..that sounds remarkably like the ‘Welcome to Black Mesa…’ spiel that one gets at the start of Half Life.

  11. This is similar to Dr. Richard Lenski’s long-term evolution experiment with E. coli.  His 12 independent lines of bacteria have been growing since 1988 and have gone through about 60,0000 generations.  Dr. Dawkins discussed Lenski’s experiments at great length in The Greatest Show On Earth.

  12. That explains it much better.  When you think of how many generations of E-coli there must have been in 500 million years it struck me as silly to hope to see that E-TU gene modify in only 1000 generations. Am I missing something?

Leave a Reply