Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Microbes With Limited DNA May Reveal Secrets of Life

Scientists recently deleted nearly half the genes in a microbe, which created a stripped-down version that still fully functions. This achievement can potentially reveal secrets of life and how life works. This finding may also help researchers create new bacteria specially made for pumping out medicine and other valuable substances. 

This newly created bacterium contains less genetic information than any other natural free-living counterpart. This bacterium had 531,000 DNA building blocks, and 473 genes, while humans have more than three billion DNA building blocks, and more than 20,000 genes. Unfortunately, scientists still consider this simple microbe as a mystery, because they are still unsure what one third of their genes actually do. 

Some of these mystery genes could possibly reveal unknown fundamental processes of life, which Clyde Hutchinson III and J. Craig Venter said in an interview, the two authors of a paper on the project release in the journal Science. The brand new genome, or DNA code, is contained in a brand new bacterium called JCVI-syn3.0. 

This is not the only set of minimal genes needed for life itself. If the researchers had paired DNA from a different bacterium, they probably would have gotten a different set of genes. The minimum genome an organism needs would depend on its environment in which it lives. Additionally, the genome includes genes that are not essential to life, because they help the bacteria populations grow fast and this makes it easy for lab work. 

A goal of this work is to find out what every single gene living cell does, which would give a very good understanding of how cells work and function. Another goal is to use minimal-DNA microbes as a chassis for adding genes to make the organisms produce medicines, and other substances for uses like nutrition and agriculture. 

This work began with a man-made version of a microbe found in sheep, called M. mycoides, which has about 900 genes. The scientists identified 428 non-useful genes, and built their genome without it but was still complete enough to let the bacterium survive. 

I believe this work is only the beginning to a huge finding in genetics. With this information, scientists can get closer to defining each and every gene in a living cell and understand what the function is of each. It is hard to believe that more than half of the genes in a microbe could be non-essential, yet not understood. With this study, there will be advances in medicine and public health research. 

1 comment:

  1. It's something that they were able to delete half the bacterial genome and it still functions normally. I wonder if the genome that was deleted was a part of the non coding sequence that is otherwise useless. Maybe this shows that there are "worthless" parts of a genome that have no bearing on cell function. Perhaps if they delete certain parts of the genome scientist can determine what the actual affects are. In animals, these techniques could lead scientists to manipulate the genome in order to determine the cause of disease which may help in ultimately fixing them.