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Biotech Science

Scientists Resurrect 500-Million-Year-Old Gene Inside Modern Organism 135

Posted by Soulskill
from the you-bred-velocibacteria? dept.
An anonymous reader writes with news that researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have taken a gene from 500-million-year-old bacteria and inserted it into modern E. coli bacteria. They then allowed the bacteria to evolve over the course of a thousand generations to see whether it would resemble its original 'evolutionary trajectory.' From the article: "After achieving the difficult task of placing the ancient gene in the correct chromosomal order and position in place of the modern gene within E. coli, Kaçar produced eight identical bacterial strains and allowed 'ancient life' to re-evolve. This chimeric bacteria composed of both modern and ancient genes survived, but grew about two times slower than its counterpart composed of only modern genes. 'The altered organism wasn’t as healthy or fit as its modern-day version, at least initially,' said Gaucher, 'and this created a perfect scenario that would allow the altered organism to adapt and become more fit as it accumulated mutations with each passing day.' The growth rate eventually increased and, after the first 500 generations, the scientists sequenced the genomes of all eight lineages to determine how the bacteria adapted. Not only did the fitness levels increase to nearly modern-day levels, but also some of the altered lineages actually became healthier than their modern counterpart."
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Scientists Resurrect 500-Million-Year-Old Gene Inside Modern Organism

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  • Two words. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JCCyC (179760) on Friday July 13, 2012 @10:18AM (#40638621) Journal

    Twelve. Monkeys.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      this is two or three times worse than that. It's like twenty-four or thirty-six monkeys.

    • Jurassic. Park.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by halfEvilTech (1171369)

        Jurassic. Park.

        so in other words?

        What could possibly go wrong....

        • by todrules (882424)
          I was thinking more: The. Stand. And, yes, what could possibly go wrong?
        • Re:Two words. (Score:5, Interesting)

          by icebike (68054) * on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:12PM (#40641041)

          Jurassic. Park.

          so in other words?

          What could possibly go wrong....

          Last line of the summary:

          Not only did the fitness levels increase to nearly modern-day levels, but also some of the altered lineages actually became healthier than their modern counterpart.

          So yes, one hopes this doesn't get out of the Level 4 Bio Lab.

          500 million years ago there were no warm blooded animals, and most life was aquatic [wikipedia.org]. Whereas today, its rare (but not un-heard of) [jst.go.jp] to find an e.coli strain that can live for long outside the gut of a warm blooded animal, clearly this was not the case in the Cambrian.

          Chances are this gene is from a time when water born e.coli were the norm.

        • by arth1 (260657)

          so in other words?

          What could possibly go wrong....

          Oh, I'm sure that in a year or two they'll have ancient gene splicing simple enough that Jeremy Clarkson can do it.
          I mean, it's just a itsy bitsy teeny weeny bacterium, right? It's not like one of those tiiiny things could do a lot of damage anyhow!

          What scares me are the scientists that want to make gemo bugs to fight other harmful bugs. We know what goes wrong every time we try something like that. But this time it's all going to be different. Yeah, rite.

          • by hairyfeet (841228)

            Every time I hear of stuff like this i always think of the same thing...Kudzu [wikipedia.org]. Before my grandmothers passed on we used to talk about what life was like during the depression and both told me how the scientists were just completely sure that kudzu was the answer, why it'd fix the dust bowls and save the farms! Oh it fixed it alright, if you call spreading like a cancer [wordpress.com] a 'fix'.

            Let us just hope they are smart enough to keep this shit under lock and key and never ever let it out, because i seriously doubt t

        • by sjames (1099)

          BAD GRUPS! THUMP! THUMP!

      • by ddusza (775603) on Friday July 13, 2012 @12:51PM (#40640175)
        Sure, first it's all "oooohhhh" and "aaaahhhh", but then there is all the running and screaming....
        • by Anonymous Coward

          Sure, first it's all "oooohhhh" and "aaaahhhh", but then there is all the running and screaming....

          You're only going to get voted down cause no one saw that sequel.

    • by GameboyRMH (1153867) <gameboyrmh@gmail.cCOBOLom minus language> on Friday July 13, 2012 @10:23AM (#40638671) Journal

      I was thinking "Cambrian Park."

      Or more like Cambrian Petri Dish, in this case, but that's 3 words...

      • by Tablizer (95088)

        "Cambrian Park."

        Giant Anomalocarises eating evil business executives with their round spiky asshole-like mouths.

        No, I mean the Anomalocaris's mouth, not the executives, although...

        • by drkim (1559875)

          ...evil business executives with their round spiky asshole-like mouths...

          I was going to say; executive's mouths aren't round.

    • by Anne_Nonymous (313852) on Friday July 13, 2012 @10:29AM (#40638745) Homepage Journal

      >> Resurrect 500-Million-Year-Old Gene Inside Modern Organism

      Or Hugh Hefner shtupping one of his models.

      • At some point - even pharmaceuticals won't "get it up" for you. Hugh was an old bastard decades ago. I wouldn't make any bets on him "shtupping" anything these days.

    • Re:Two words. (Score:4, Informative)

      by Internetuser1248 (1787630) on Friday July 13, 2012 @11:25AM (#40639313)
      If we are referring to popular culture for ideas about what could go wrong, there is a Canadian show called 'Regenesis' which I highly recommend. It is just sciency enough to make it uninteresting to the general public (Canadian accents and US government policy bashing may also play a role). Quote: "There are people working on things in labs right now that make the manhattan project look like kids playing with lego".
      • by JCCyC (179760)

        *Does some online research*

        MUST!!! WATCH!!!!! 8-O

      • Seconded. Regenesis is a really good show.

        It's got a bad case of CSI syndrome, though.
        How do they do 5 man-years worth of science with four people every two weeks? Oh, right, they're BRILLIANT.

        So brilliant that one of them dies in a "freak vortex accident". Because the vortex wasn't 'properly maintained'. Never mind that I've had vortexes that were built in the '80s, never been serviced in any way whatsoever (probably not even cleaned...) and will continue working for 30 more years. Never mind that th

    • Zombie Apocalypse. oh crap, what if craps on us... were going to become zombies. ahhhh
  • this damage they inferred as meaning they took the gene back 500 million years

    then the bacteria slowly repaired the damage with successive mutations, somehow meaning 500 million years of evolution had been reacquired

    "some of the altered lineages actually became healthier than their modern counterpart"

    meaning the typical background noise of random mutations, within or without this experiment, leads to natural variation in fitness

    it's an interesting experiment, but the write up is highly contrived about what they actually did

    • by OCedHrt (1001533) on Friday July 13, 2012 @10:53AM (#40638977)

      When the researchers looked closer, they noticed that every EF-Tu gene did not accumulate mutations. Instead, the modern proteins that interact with the ancient EF-Tu inside of the bacteria had mutated and these mutations were responsible for the rapid adaptation that increased the bacteria’s fitness. In short, the ancient gene has not yet mutated to become more similar to its modern form, but rather, the bacteria found a new evolutionary trajectory to adapt.

      Not really repair the damage, but work around it.

    • by acidfast7 (551610)
      actually, that's why I really want to see the original article ... I want to know what selective pressure was placed on the cells (i.e. what medium / temp / atmospheric conditions / carbon source)?
    • There has never been a science write-up posted to slashdot that bore more than a passing resemblance to the actual science.

  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Friday July 13, 2012 @10:25AM (#40638697) Journal
    From the article:

    “we want to know if an organism’s history limits its future and if evolution always leads to a single, defined point or whether evolution has multiple solutions to a given problem.”

    I would wager it would almost have to be the latter. For example, I found it odd that the article made no mention of horizontal gene transfer [wikipedia.org] and how, over 500 million years, the chance of that bacteria participating in HGT with a distantly related bacteria could have given it, say, a faster growth mechanism -- just like bacterial resistance to drugs is theorized to be a result of HGT. This is probably a useful experiment to look at one of the many mechanisms of evolution but not the entire picture of evolution nor could it effectively draw a final conclusion that "evolution always leads to a single, defined point."

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Gr8Apes (679165)

      It appears the experiment already has proven that evolution can take many tracks, as the bacteria adapted to the ancient gene, and did not mutate the ancient gene at all as of yet. Sounds to me like the evolutionary track has already altered, and if the bacteria is as healthy or more so than its unaltered cousins, then this bacteria would already be in better shape on the evolutionary ladder and would push evolution in a different direction.

      Honestly, I don't know why this is a surprise, since evolution is

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      “we want to know if an organism’s history limits its future and if evolution always leads to a single, defined point or whether evolution has multiple solutions to a given problem.”

      I think the real answer is that the FSM carried out his design with correct application of His Noodly Appendages.

  • So they created a new strain of dangerous bacteria that people have no exposure and inherent resistance to? Great idea.
    • by tomhath (637240)
      It actually is a very good idea. They learned a lot about how bacteria evolve and adapt, which is critical to our understanding of disease and how new diseases emerge.
      • by yodleboy (982200)
        why take chances with ancient specimens? Couldn't they have learned the exact same things using more modern and better understood strains? Don't get me wrong. I love science and discovery and all that jazz. I just wonder about the playing with fire mentality of some researchers sometimes. "Hey we're gonna do this cool experiment, let's do it with something really COOL!"
        • by tomhath (637240)

          Couldn't they have learned the exact same things using more modern and better understood strains?

          As I read the article, that's what they did. The 500 million year old part appears to be hype; apparently they calculated what the genes would've looked like early in the evolution of the species and recreated part of it to watch it evolve again. But I might be wrong there, but I don't think they did it just because it seemed COOL to grow E. coli bacteria (we all do that already).

    • Re:Genius! (Score:5, Informative)

      by MightyMartian (840721) on Friday July 13, 2012 @10:56AM (#40639011) Journal

      E. coli is absolutely everywhere. Some strains are dangerous, but other strains are beneficial; like the ones living in your gut.

  • I sincerely hope this one doesn't leave the lab...

  • by acidfast7 (551610) on Friday July 13, 2012 @10:34AM (#40638785)
    Not only in the summary here on /. horrible, but the PR ... is even worse. Where's the link to the peer-reviewed work? Neither in the "summary", nor in the PR. FWIW, I don't find the purported results interesting in the slightest in their current form. For example, how were the cells grown? (please don't say in LB in a chemostat.)
    • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Friday July 13, 2012 @11:16AM (#40639233) Journal
      Well, I'm not going to judge before all the facts are in but after doing a bit of digging we can see from one of the researcher's CVs [gatech.edu]:

      Arslan BK and Gaucher EA Replaying the Tape of Life Through Experimental Evolution of Ancient EF-Tu proteins Astrobiology Science Conference 2010: Evolution and Life: Surviving Catastrophes and Extremes on Earth and Beyond, held April 26-20, 2010 in League City, Texas. LPI Contribution No. 1538

      Which I think was just a presentation that provides very little information given all I can find is this PDF [usra.edu]:

      Whether evolution would ‘replay the tape of life’ if given the opportunity has long fascinated biologists. Paleogenetics via laboratory resurrected ancient genes not only reveals information regarding ancestral phenotypes and environments but also provides an opportunity to ‘replay’ the molecular tape of life. Recent work has demonstrated that ancestral sequences can be computationally determined and experimentally resurrected. The ideal paleoexperimental evolution system requires an organism with a short generation time and a protein whose ancestral genotype and phenotype used to replace the modern gene and causes the modern host to be less fit. The research described here focuses on Elongation Factor Tu (EF-Tu) involved in the protein synthesis machinery of both eukaryotic and prokaryotic organisms. The optimal thermostability of EF-Tus correlates with the optimal thermostability of their host organisms and are ideal for these types of experiments. Previously we have resurrected ancient EF-Tus and showed that these ancient proteins display a range of thermostability profiles. We will replace the modern EF-Tu sequences with ancient EF-Tus and observe their adaptation through experimental evolution. Results from this work will help us identify whether evolution is repetitive for this experimental system.

      I don't think that really answers your question and I think this research has only been presented at conferences, published in conference proceedings and not yet peer reviewed in a journal (if it has there is no mention of it on Kacar's CV). I also find it odd that on her site she's using the phrase "tree of life" and not "web of life" which I thought was a more modern way of looking at evolution -- especially in prokaryotes.

      I will say that it is probably within line to chide the researcher for putting this little blurb on her research page [gatech.edu]:

      Experimental Evolution of Ancient Proteins

      To assess the role of contingency in evolution, I construct an experimental time machine in the lab by inserting previously resurrected genes into a modern bacterial genomes, then subjecting them to experimental evolution. Observing the real-time evolution of ancient genes as they adapt to the conditions of modern bacteria allows us to analyze evolution in action.

      "Experimental time machine?" Please, leave the hype and sensationalism to the "science" reporters.

      • by acidfast7 (551610)
        I think the hype machine is going factor-10 on this one until I see the peer-reviewed data.
      • Whether evolution would ‘replay the tape of life’ if given the opportunity has long fascinated biologists. Paleogenetics via laboratory resurrected ancient genes not only reveals information regarding ancestral phenotypes and environments but also provides an opportunity to ‘replay’ the molecular tape of life.

        IANAB, but it doesn't make sense to me that this experiment does what she is claiming. I can understand learning about "ancestral phenotypes", but "replay the molecular tape of life"? That would only be possible if the cells were exposed to the same conditions they would have 500 million years ago, correct? With environmental conditions being a chaotic system, you'd have to get it exactly right-- impossible given we don't have an exact knowledge of those conditions. At best you might argue that you can show

      • by nbauman (624611)

        "Experimental time machine?" Please, leave the hype and sensationalism to the "science" reporters.

        Have pity on the poor girl. Science and Nature (and the university PR department) keeps telling you how important the public understanding of science is, and how important it is for scientists to explain their work in language the general public can understand. Otherwise you'll lose your grants, the Republicans will teach creationism in school, and your freshman biology students will go blank, fall asleep in class and major in business administration.

    • I find your claim to be a microbiologist to be questionable. It's a well known fact that women are drawn to the biological sciences, and that no woman reads Slashdot. Therefore your are not a microbiologist.

      Signed,
      Anonymous Congressional Speechwriter.

  • by P-niiice (1703362) on Friday July 13, 2012 @10:37AM (#40638827)
    I was expecting a huge explosion of growth that chases the scientist out of the lab, grabs his ankle with a tentacle, drags him back into the lab to infect him and give him Akira-like telekinetic power and a thirst for world rule
  • evolution vs physics (Score:5, Interesting)

    by magarity (164372) on Friday July 13, 2012 @10:44AM (#40638881)

    What's amazing in modern society is how so many non-scientists (mainly religious fundamentalists of different sects) think evolution is very much up for debate while problems in physics are totally solved when it's the other way around. I was confronted once by an anti-evolution person who thought exactly how gravity works was a long ago solved case but evolution was some new wacky baseless idea being forced on gullible unbelievers.

    • The Conservative Judeo-Christian "about 5000-10000 year old universe" crowd doen't all say evolution CAN'T happen, but they all do say that within 6x24 hours of the creation of the Universe, the world looked like that described in Genesis. They don't say that if Rapture doesn't come for another 100,000 years we won't have new species, nor do most say that we don't have species now that didn't exist at the time of Adam and Eve. But for the fact that the sun may expand sooner, I would've used a billion year

      • by Jiro (131519)

        I challenge you to find me a Jew who believes in the rapture.

        Stop saying "Judeo-Christian" when you mean Christian.

    • by Livius (318358)

      In a sense, you're both right. We do have a deep understanding of gravity with very few situations that we cannot calculate, and therefore we now turn to a deeper and more complete understanding. An equivalent problem in biology might be the origin of life in terms of specific chemical reactions. It would be reasonable to say that physics has 'solved' gravity and biology and not 'solved' origin of life, although in both cases scientists don't stop but simply turn to the next level of understanding, with

  • by Gulik (179693) on Friday July 13, 2012 @11:07AM (#40639133)

    Man. It's like these scientists have never even seen a horror movie.

  • What if they accidentally unleash a zombie/zerg bacteria/virus?

  • Prior Art (Score:5, Funny)

    by MyLongNickName (822545) on Friday July 13, 2012 @11:22AM (#40639289) Journal

    Hugh Hefner has been doing this for a while.

  • The local bacteriophages welcome their new frankenfood overlords.

    Welcome them for dinner that is!

    Bon appetit!

  • by trevc (1471197) on Friday July 13, 2012 @11:46AM (#40639517)
    The world is only 6000 years old.
    • by MrSenile (759314)

      On the same note, the bacteria didn't mutate into a fully grown person either, it mutated into... more bacteria...

      I guess I need to ditch my science project of harvesting my intestines for bacteria and rapid-growing them into intelligent bipedal slave labour forces.

      Bummer.

      • I guess I need to ditch my science project of harvesting my intestines for bacteria and rapid-growing them into intelligent bipedal slave labour forces.

        Dude! Kickstarter!

    • And yet this meme seems many times older.

  • velocibacteria

    Thanks, that was just the laugh I needed this morning. =)

  • by swb (14022)

    ...welcome our newly evolved E. Coli masters.

  • Why are we making E. coli bacteria better faster and stronger? I suppose it could lead to implementing the same method in other species, mammals maybe even (which would have some pros and cons about them too). But is that leap in science something we want to make at the cost of making something stronger that could possibly damage humanity? It seems like the risks far out weigh what we would have to gain.
  • by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Friday July 13, 2012 @01:20PM (#40640501)

    taken a gene from 500-million-year-old bacteria and inserted it into modern E. coli bacteria.

    Well that's just rude.

  • by jouassou (1854178) on Friday July 13, 2012 @03:00PM (#40641671) Homepage
    This sounds like an interesting opportunity to study convergent evolution [wikipedia.org]:
    1. Put ancient bacteria in different environments, and let their lineages diverge;
    2. Move the evolved bacteria to similar environments, and check if they converge;
    3. Repeat the experiment with differing numbers of generations spent in different environments. How does the convergence depend on the time spent diverging beforehand?

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