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Jumping Genomes

September 17, 2007

An entire bacterial genome found spliced into the DNA of a fly changes the way we think about evolution.


A fly’s alien genes. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Scientists have discovered the entire genetic code of one species incorporated into the DNA of an entirely different species. Researchers stumbled upon this discovery while treating a colony of tropical flies with an antibiotic to rid them of a bacterial parasite called Wolbachia. They cured the flies of the parasite, but to their amazement, its DNA remained.

JACK WERREN (University of Rochester):
There is a region in one of the chromosomes of the fly which has a big piece of Wolbachia stuck in it.

That’s evolutionary biologist Jack Werren of the University of Rochester. He adds that this large-scale gene transfer may be a new way that organisms acquire new genes and evolve.

Given how common these bacteria are, and how common these transfers appear to be, it’s inevitable that some of these transfers are going to result in the evolution of new gene functions.

I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society