Single-cell parasites co-opt 'ready-made' genes from host: study

July 18, 2012

Two species of single-cell parasites have co-opted "ready-made" genes from their hosts that in turn help them exploit their hosts, according to a new study by University of British Columbia and University of Ottawa researchers.

Part of a group of parasitic called microsporidia, Encephalitozoon hellem and Encephalitozoon romaleae are related to fungi and are commonly found in the of . In humans, they are associated with people with immune deficiencies.

The research team identified six genes in these parasites that were not found in any other microsporidian. Rather than the slow process of inheriting individual genes, E. hellem and E. romaleae have acquired a suite of genes that produce folate, a form of folic acid that helps cell division and growth.

"With their tiny, reduced genomes, microsporidia are models for ," says lead author Patrick Keeling, a professor in UBC's Dept. of Botany.

"These parasites have undergone massive reductions and are literally infection machines – they only kept genes that are essential for survival."

"But here we found two species have actually acquired new genes that work together to make an essential nutrient that the parasites would otherwise have to steal from their host – opening up new tissues or even new hosts as targets for infection," says Keeling, director of the Centre for Microbial Diversity and Evolution and a member of Beaty Biodiversity Research Centre at UBC.

The process of horizontal gene transfer – the ability to acquire ready-made genes with specific functions from foreign genomes – is an important but often overlooked mechanism of evolution, according to Keeling. "It helps explain the relatively rapid evolution of these tiny organisms and their ability to infect and live off of a wide variety of hosts."

Explore further: Genomic 'haircut' makes world's tiniest genome even smaller: research

Related Stories

Tiny fungi may have sex while infecting humans

October 30, 2008

A fungus called microsporidia that causes chronic diarrhea in AIDS patients, organ transplant recipients and travelers has been identified as a member of the family of fungi that have been discovered to reproduce sexually. ...

Recommended for you

Water striders illustrate evolutionary processes

October 19, 2017

How do new species arise and diversify in nature? Natural selection offers an explanation, but the genetic and environmental conditions behind this mechanism are still poorly understood. A team led by Abderrahman Khila at ...

New discovery challenges long-held evolutionary theory

October 19, 2017

Monash scientists involved in one of the world's longest evolution experiments have debunked an established theory with a study that provides a 'high-resolution' view of the molecular details of adaptation.

Gene editing in the brain gets a major upgrade

October 19, 2017

Genome editing technologies have revolutionized biomedical science, providing a fast and easy way to modify genes. However, the technique allowing scientists to carryout the most precise edits, doesn't work in cells that ...

Gut bacteria from wild mice boost health in lab mice

October 19, 2017

Laboratory mice that are given the gut bacteria of wild mice can survive a deadly flu virus infection and fight colorectal cancer dramatically better than laboratory mice with their own gut bacteria, researchers report October ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.