Microbe found more diverse than thought

May 28, 2009 at 3:32 PM
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill., May 28 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say they've discovered populations of the microbe Sulfolobus islandicus that can live in boiling acid are more diverse than thought.

University of Illinois researchers in Champaign said they found the diversity of S. islandicus is driven largely by geographic isolation and that finding demonstrates, for the first time, that geography trumps other factors that influence the makeup of genes in organism hosts.

The researchers, led by Professor Rachel Whitaker, compared three populations of S. islandicus, from hot springs in Yellowstone National Park, Lassen National Park in California and the Mutnovsky Volcano in eastern Russia.

By comparing genetic characteristics the scientists were able to see how each population evolved since being isolated from one another more than 900,000 years ago.

"This tells you that there's a lot more diversity than we thought," Whitaker said. "Each hot spring region has its own genome and its own genome components and is evolving in its own unique way."

The Archaea, like bacteria, can transfer genes to one another, but they also obtain new genes from free-floating genetic elements, called plasmids, or from viruses. That finding challenges the idea microbes draw whatever they may need from a near-universal pool of available genetic material, Whitaker said.

The study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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