Evolution News: Gonorrhea acquires a piece of human DNA
Just in time for Valentines day… a little bit of evolution news.
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.”
A fascinating discovery that not only gives researches insight into gonorrhea but also into evolution in bacteria. If indeed bacteria can pick up fragments of nucleic material from their hosts, and given that viruses can deposit part of themselves within a host’s DNA/RNA, there now exists a loop whereby different species, animals or plants, can exchange (albeit very rarely) genetic material.