Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Gonorrhea acquires a piece of human DNA: First evidence of gene transfer from human host to bacterial pathogen

Date:
February 14, 2011
Source:
Northwestern University
Summary:
Researchers have discovered the first evidence of a fragment of human DNA in a bacterium -- in this case gonorrhea. Research showed the gene transfer appears to be a recent evolutionary event. The discovery offers insight into evolution as well as gonorrhea's ability to continually adapt and survive in its human hosts. Gonorrhea is one of the oldest recorded diseases and one of a few exclusive to humans.

Photomicrograph of a colony of Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria; magnified 100X.
Credit: CDC/Dr. Stephen J. Kraus

If a human cell and a bacterial cell met at a speed-dating event, they would never be expected to exchange phone numbers, much less genetic material. In more scientific terms, a direct transfer of DNA has never been recorded from humans to bacteria.

Until now. Northwestern Medicine researchers have discovered the first evidence of a human DNA fragment in a bacterial genome -- in this case, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacterium that causes gonorrhea. Further research showed the gene transfer appears to be a recent evolutionary event.

The discovery offers insight into evolution as well as gonorrhea's nimble ability to continually adapt and survive in its human hosts. Gonorrhea, which is transmitted through sexual contact, is one of the oldest recorded diseases and one of a few exclusive to humans.

"This has evolutionary significance because it shows you can take broad evolutionary steps when you're able to acquire these pieces of DNA," said study senior author Hank Seifert, professor of microbiology and immunology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "The bacterium is getting a genetic sequence from the very host it's infecting. That could have far reaching implications as far as how the bacteria can adapt to the host."

It's known that gene transfer occurs between different bacteria and even between bacteria and yeast cells. "But human DNA to a bacterium is a very large jump," said lead author Mark Anderson, a postdoctoral fellow in microbiology. "This bacterium had to overcome several obstacles in order to acquire this DNA sequence."

The paper will be published Feb. 14 in the online journal mBio.

The finding suggests gonorrhea's ability to acquire DNA from its human host may enable it to develop new and different strains of itself. "But whether this particular event has provided an advantage for the gonorrhea bacterium, we don't know yet, " Seifert said.

Every year an estimated 700,000 people in the United States and 50 million worldwide acquire gonorrhea. While the disease is curable with antibiotics, only one drug is now recommended for treatment because the disease developed resistance to previously used antibiotic options over the past four decades.

Gonorrhea is a particularly serious disease for women. If left untreated, gonorrhea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, a painful condition that can cause sterility and ectopic pregnancy. In rare cases, men and women can develop a form of the disease that leaves the genital tract and enters the bloodstream, causing arthritis and endocarditis, an infection of the inner lining of the heart.

An ancient disease that sounds like gonorrhea is described in the Bible, noted Seifert, who has studied the disease for 28 years. Most of his research focuses on how the bacterium evades the human immune system by altering its appearance and modulating the action of white blood cells.

The gene transfer was discovered when the genomic sequences of several gonorrhea clinical isolates were determined at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass. Three of the 14 isolates had a piece of DNA where the sequence of DNA bases (A's, T's, C's and G's) was identical to an L1 DNA element found in humans.

In Seifert's Feinberg lab, Anderson sequenced the fragment to reconfirm it was indeed identical to the human one. He also showed that this human sequence is present in about 11 percent of the screened gonorrhea isolates.

Anderson also screened the bacterium that causes meningitis, Neisseria meningitidis, and is very closely related to gonorrhea bacteria at the genetic level. There was no sign of the human fragment, suggesting the gene transfer is a recent evolutionary event.

"The next step is to figure out what this piece of DNA is doing," Seifert said.

The research was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Northwestern University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Northwestern University. "Gonorrhea acquires a piece of human DNA: First evidence of gene transfer from human host to bacterial pathogen." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 February 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110213174143.htm>.
Northwestern University. (2011, February 14). Gonorrhea acquires a piece of human DNA: First evidence of gene transfer from human host to bacterial pathogen. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 2, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110213174143.htm
Northwestern University. "Gonorrhea acquires a piece of human DNA: First evidence of gene transfer from human host to bacterial pathogen." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110213174143.htm (accessed September 2, 2014).

Share This




More Health & Medicine News

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

U.N. Says Ebola Travel Restrictions Will Cause Food Shortage

U.N. Says Ebola Travel Restrictions Will Cause Food Shortage

Newsy (Sep. 2, 2014) The U.N. says the problem is two-fold — quarantine zones and travel restrictions are limiting the movement of both people and food. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Get on Your Bike! London Cycling Popularity Soars Despite Danger

Get on Your Bike! London Cycling Popularity Soars Despite Danger

AFP (Sep. 1, 2014) Wedged between buses, lorries and cars, cycling in London isn't for the faint hearted. Nevertheless the number of people choosing to bike in the British capital has doubled over the past 15 years. Duration: 02:27 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Can You Train Your Brain To Eat Healthy?

Can You Train Your Brain To Eat Healthy?

Newsy (Sep. 1, 2014) New research says if you condition yourself to eat healthy foods, eventually you'll crave them instead of junk food. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
We've Got Mites Living In Our Faces And So Do You

We've Got Mites Living In Our Faces And So Do You

Newsy (Aug. 30, 2014) A new study suggests 100 percent of adult humans (those over 18 years of age) have Demodex mites living in their faces. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins