JUN 01, 2016 9:28 AM PDT

Stick insects nab bacteria's genes

WRITTEN BY: Kerry Evans
We’re all familiar with vertical gene transfer (whether you know it or not). Vertical transfer describes the way you inherit genes from your parents, for example. What about horizontal (or lateral) gene transfer? This type of transfer occurs between two organisms that are not parent and offspring, and it occurs most often between unicellular organisms like bacteria.

However, researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology report that stick insects acquired a bacterial gene (by horizontal transfer) from one of their gut microbes. Many investigators thought that gene transfer between bacteria and insects was quite rare, but new genomic techniques are challenging this idea.
 
Stick insects acquired bacterial genes.

Stick insects (also known as walking sticks) eat plants and need pectinases to digest the tough plant cell walls. Thing is, researchers didn’t think that stick insects could make their own pectinase - they thought gut bacteria made it for them.

That’s not the case. Matan Shelomi and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute found pectinase genes in the stick insect genome. Interestingly, the sequences of these genes are very similar to pectinase genes from gamma-proteobacteria - these bacteria are highly abundant in the stick insect’s gut.

The group used data from the 1K Insect Transcriptome Evolution Project (1KITE) to determine how long ago this horizontal transfer event occurred. They compared 1KITE data for Timema cristinae (a primitive species of stick insect that does not make pectinase) and the more modern Euphasmatodea (that do make pectinase). They concluded that the transfer event occurred between 60 and 100 million years ago.

This event is probably one reason why stick insects that make pectinase have spread so successfully around the world. When the insects are able to produce their own pectinase, they don’t have to rely on symbiotic microbes to do it for them.

According to study author Matan Shelomi, “something happened to make the tiny Timema become a planet-wide group of nearly 3,000 species that can be nearly half a meter long … the idea that genes from microbes living in our guts can suddenly become part of our genomes and change the course of our evolutionary history, that's an incredible finding”.
 

Sources: Nature Scientific Reports, Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, 1KITE
 
About the Author
  • Kerry received a doctorate in microbiology from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
You May Also Like
JUL 13, 2021
Immunology
A Moment of COVID, A Lifetime of Immune Protection?
JUL 13, 2021
A Moment of COVID, A Lifetime of Immune Protection?
Does getting vaccinated, or having recovered from COVID, provide life-long protection against the coronavirus? Most like ...
JUL 27, 2021
Health & Medicine
No Link Found Between Vaccinations and Increased Risk of Allergic Diseases
JUL 27, 2021
No Link Found Between Vaccinations and Increased Risk of Allergic Diseases
It is well known that allergies and asthma have been on the rise in developed nations where childhood mass vaccinations ...
AUG 10, 2021
Microbiology
Herbal Medicine May Help Restore the Microbiome, Treat Gulf War Illnesses
AUG 10, 2021
Herbal Medicine May Help Restore the Microbiome, Treat Gulf War Illnesses
About one-third of Gulf war veterans have chronic and unexplained medical issues that include gastrointestinal disorders ...
AUG 16, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
New UTI Models Reveal More About These Tough Infections
AUG 16, 2021
New UTI Models Reveal More About These Tough Infections
If bacteria, usually Escherichia coli, get into the urethra, they can cause a urinary tract infection (UTI). These are s ...
SEP 02, 2021
Microbiology
Microbes Create an Electrical Grid in Nature
SEP 02, 2021
Microbes Create an Electrical Grid in Nature
The world is full of single-celled organisms, which can be found virtually everywhere from hydrothermal vents in the dee ...
SEP 12, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
What Happens When Two Viruses Infect the Same Cell?
SEP 12, 2021
What Happens When Two Viruses Infect the Same Cell?
Pathgenic microbes that infect cells can affect each other. It's not unusual for people with viral respiratory infection ...
Loading Comments...