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publicado em 07/02/2011 às 13h00:00
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Horizontal gene transfer may explain the specialization of microorganisms

Scientists have discovered that this type of transfer also occurs between fungi and not only among bacteria

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Foto: YouJohn Russell/Vanderbilt University
Foto: YouJohn Russell/Vanderbilt University
Photomicrograph of Aspergillus nidulans
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"Fungi are telling us something important about the evolution," says Professor Antonis Rokas (right) next to the student Jason Slot
Photomicrograph of Aspergillus nidulans

Since the days of Darwin, the "tree of life" was the most prominent metaphor for the process of evolution, reflecting the gradual change of branch and individual species.

The discovery that a large cluster of genes seems to have jumped directly from a fungal species to another, however, significantly strengthens the argument that a different metaphor, like a mosaic, may be more appropriate. The conclusion is a group of researchers at the University Vanverbilt in Nashville (USA).

"Fungi are telling us something important about evolution, something I do not know," said Antonis Rokas, assistant professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt. He and research associate Jason Slot reported their findings in the journal Current Biology.

Rokas slot and found that millions of years ago, a group of 23 genes jumped from a strain of fungi commonly found in starchy foods like bread and potatoes, Aspergillus, another strain of fungus that lives in the feces of herbivores and specialized in breaking down plant fibers, Podospora.

The results came as a surprise, since there are only a handful of cases in recent evolutionary history where this type of gene transfer between organisms, known as horizontal gene transfer has been reported in complex cells like those found in plants, animals and fungi .

"Because most people do not believe that such large clusters of genes can be transferred horizontally, they did not look at them and they were not found," says Rokas.

Rokas and Slot detected the transfer of genes from the cluster during an unprecedented detailed comparison of complete genomes of nearly 100 species of fungi. The main objective is to identify the most reliable methods to determine the evolutionary relationships of species of all kinds.

Slot e Rokas explicam a descoberta

that fungi produce so many drugs and poisons?

The cells produce a toxic compound called sterigmatocystin to attack competitors or organizations to protect themselves from attacks. As a result, these types of compounds are the source of a number of important drugs such as penicillin and cyclosporin, as well as a series of natural poisons.

"The fungi produce an impressive variety of drugs and poisons." Our discovery that one of the largest groups of genes responsible for making such a poison so they were moved intact between species suggests that horizontal transfer may have contributed significantly to the generation of diversity " , Rokas said.

In the past, evolutionary research has focused on the passage of genes from father to son, known as vertical gene transfer. This process, acted over the eons of geological time, giving rise to the branching structure of the tree of life.

Since the 1980s, however, evolutionary scientists have become increasingly aware that the horizontal or lateral gene transfer also plays an important role in evolution.

In vertical gene transfer, all the genetic material of each new species comes from a single ancestral species. In horizontal gene transfer, on the other hand, species with bits of genetic material from its neighbors are directly related to a number of unrelated species.

The horizontal gene transfer in bacteria was discovered and has been recognized as a major contributor to the problem of drug resistance. If a bacterium develops a method to survive a drug, this ability can quickly spread to other organisms through independent horizontal gene transfer, greatly reducing the effectiveness of the drug.


   Palavras-chave:   Horizontal transfer    Genetics    Fungi    Enough    Medicines    Poisons    Resistance   
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