Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

How to thrive in battery acid and among toxic metals

Date:
March 7, 2013
Source:
National Science Foundation
Summary:
In the movie Alien, the title character is an extraterrestrial creature that can survive brutal heat and resist the effects of toxins. In real life, organisms with similar traits exist, such as the "extremophile" red alga Galdieria sulphuraria. In hot springs in Yellowstone National Park, Galdieria uses energy from the sun to produce sugars through photosynthesis. In the darkness of old mineshafts in drainage as caustic as battery acid, it feeds on bacteria and survives high concentrations of arsenic and heavy metals. How has a one-celled alga acquired such flexibility and resilience?

Rock in an Icelandic hot spring near Reykjavik with sulfur and Galdieria sulphuraria.
Credit: Christine Oesterhelt

In the movie Alien, the title character is an extraterrestrial creature that can survive brutal heat and resist the effects of toxins.

In real life, organisms with similar traits exist, such as the "extremophile" red alga Galdieria sulphuraria.

In hot springs in Yellowstone National Park, Galdieria uses energy from the sun to produce sugars through photosynthesis.

In the darkness of old mineshafts in drainage as caustic as battery acid, it feeds on bacteria and survives high concentrations of arsenic and heavy metals.

How has a one-celled alga acquired such flexibility and resilience?

To answer this question, an international research team led by Gerald Schoenknecht of Oklahoma State University and Andreas Weber and Martin Lercher of Heinrich-Heine-Universitat (Heinrich-Heine University) in Dusseldorf, Germany, decoded genetic information in Galdieria.

They are three of 18 co-authors of a paper on the findings published in this week's issue of the journal Science.

The scientists made an unexpected discovery: Galdieria's genome shows clear signs of borrowing genes from its neighbors.

Many genes that contribute to Galdieria's adaptations were not inherited from its ancestor red algae, but were acquired from bacteria or archaebacteria.

This "horizontal gene transfer" is typical for the evolution of bacteria, researchers say.

However, Galdieria is the first known organism with a nucleus (called a eukaryote) that has adapted to extreme environments based on horizontal gene transfer.

"The age of comparative genome sequencing began only slightly more than a decade ago, and revealed a new mechanism of evolution--horizontal gene transfer--that would not have been discovered any other way," says Matt Kane, program director in the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Division of Environmental Biology, which funded the research.

"This finding extends our understanding of the role that this mechanism plays in evolution to eukaryotic microorganisms."

Galdieria's heat tolerance seems to come from genes that exist in hundreds of copies in its genome, all descending from a single gene the alga copied millions of years ago from an archaebacterium.

"The results give us new insights into evolution," Schoenknecht says. "Before this, there was not much indication that eukaryotes acquire genes from bacteria."

The alga owes its ability to survive the toxic effects of such elements as mercury and arsenic to transport proteins and enzymes that originated in genes it swiped from bacteria.

It also copied genes offering tolerance to high salt concentrations, and an ability to make use of a wide variety of food sources. The genes were copied from bacteria that live in the same extreme environment as Galdieria.

"Why reinvent the wheel if you can copy it from your neighbor?" asks Lercher.

"It's usually assumed that organisms with a nucleus cannot copy genes from different species--that's why eukaryotes depend on sex to recombine their genomes.

"How has Galdieria managed to overcome this limitation? It's an exciting question."

What Galdieria did is "a dream come true for biotechnology," says Weber.

"Galdieria has acquired genes with interesting properties from different organisms, integrated them into a functional network and developed unique properties and adaptations."

In the future, genetic engineering may allow other algae to make use of the proteins that offer stress tolerance to Galdieria.

Such a development would be relevant to biofuel production, says Schoenknecht, as oil-producing algae don't yet have the ability to withstand the same extreme conditions as Galdieria.


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. G. Schonknecht, W.-H. Chen, C. M. Ternes, G. G. Barbier, R. P. Shrestha, M. Stanke, A. Brautigam, B. J. Baker, J. F. Banfield, R. M. Garavito, K. Carr, C. Wilkerson, S. A. Rensing, D. Gagneul, N. E. Dickenson, C. Oesterhelt, M. J. Lercher, A. P. M. Weber. Gene Transfer from Bacteria and Archaea Facilitated Evolution of an Extremophilic Eukaryote. Science, 2013; 339 (6124): 1207 DOI: 10.1126/science.1231707

Cite This Page:

National Science Foundation. "How to thrive in battery acid and among toxic metals." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 March 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130307190643.htm>.
National Science Foundation. (2013, March 7). How to thrive in battery acid and among toxic metals. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130307190643.htm
National Science Foundation. "How to thrive in battery acid and among toxic metals." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130307190643.htm (accessed August 21, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Drug Used To Treat 'Ebola's Cousin' Shows Promise

Drug Used To Treat 'Ebola's Cousin' Shows Promise

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) — An experimental drug used to treat Marburg virus in rhesus monkeys could give new insight into a similar treatment for Ebola. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Terrifying City-Dwelling Spiders Are Bigger And More Fertile

Terrifying City-Dwelling Spiders Are Bigger And More Fertile

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) — According to a new study, spiders that live in cities are bigger, fatter and multiply faster. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Lost Brain Cells To Blame For Sleep Problems Among Seniors

Lost Brain Cells To Blame For Sleep Problems Among Seniors

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) — According to a new study, elderly people might have trouble sleeping because of the loss of a certain group of neurons in the brain. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ramen Health Risks: The Dark Side of the Noodle

Ramen Health Risks: The Dark Side of the Noodle

AP (Aug. 21, 2014) — South Koreans eat more instant ramen noodles per capita than anywhere else in the world. But American researchers say eating too much may increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke. (Aug. 21) Video provided by AP
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