Single gene prompts microbes to play versatile rolesFebruary 2nd, 2009 - 4:48 pm ICT by IANS
Washington, Feb 2 (IANS) All plant and animal life depends on peaceful coexistence with microbes that help convert food to energy and protect from disease thanks to the role of a single gene.With the help of a squid that uses a luminescent bacterium to create a predator-fooling light organ and a fish that uses a different strain of the same species of bacteria to illuminate dark nooks of the reefs, scientists have found that gaining a single gene is enough for the microbe to switch host animals.
The finding by the University of Wisconsin-Madison team is important not only because it peels back some of the mystery of how these bacteria colonise different animals, but also because it reveals a genetic pressure point that can thwart germs making us sick.
“It seems that every animal we know about has microbes associated with it,” says Mark J. Mandel, co-author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow in the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health.
“We pick up our microbial partners from the environment and they provide us with a raft of services from helping digestion to protection from disease,” adds Mandel.
In the Pacific, a species of bacteria known as Vibrio fischeri lives in luminescent harmony with two distinct hosts - the diminutive nocturnal bobtail squid and the reef-dwelling pinecone fish.
In the squid, which feeds at night near the ocean surface, one strain of the bacterium forms a light organ that mimics moonlight and acts like a cloaking device to shield the squid from hungry predators below, said a Wisconsin release.
In the pinecone fish, another strain of the bacterium colonises a light organ within the animal’s jaw and helps illuminate the dark reefs in which it forages at night. The fish light organ may also play a role in attracting the zooplankton that make up the pinecone fish’s menu.
These findings were published in the February issue of Nature.
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Tags: animal life, bacterium, bobtail squid, cloaking device, distinct hosts, fish light, forages, host animals, hungry predators, light organ, madison school, nooks, ocean surface, peaceful coexistence, pinecone fish, postdoctoral fellow, species of bacteria, surface one, university of wisconsin madison, zooplankton