Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Lateral Gene Transfer from Bacteria to Animals - Evidence for Pansexuality?

Ok, so maybe we will never know whether our human ancestors got it on with Neanderthals, but new evidence seems to indicate that bacteria can have sex with flies and worms. Well, sort of. A new paper in Science shows that pretty massive chunks of the Wolbachia bacterial genome can be found in the genomes of a variety of multicellular eukaryote species, including flies and worms. Wolbachia are endosymbionts that can be found in germ cells, so presumably this has facilitated accidental incorporation of microbial DNA into the animal germline.

Even more interesting is the implication that bacterial LGT may be occurring in many other species of higher eukaryotes, including humans. Current practice in the world of genomic sequencing is to filter out bacterial sequence on the assumption that it must be an environmental contaminant; these findings suggest that some bacterial sequence that has been excluded from existing genome assemblies may actually belong there.