MINERAL FACILITATED HORIZONTAL GENE TRANSFER.

A NEW PRINCIPLE FOR EVOLUTION OF LIFE?

Traditionally, we think of life principally evolving following the phylogenetic tree of life through vertical modification of existing genetic information. However, the genetic information can be passed on by horizontal exchange of DNA between non-related species i.e. the genetic material is transferred between organisms that are not closely genetically related: horizontal gene transfer (HGT). HGT has become a hot topic in science and an increasing amount of studies show that passing on new traits horizontally can significantly facilitate exchange of genetic material and blur the evolutionary phylogenetic relationship between species.

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For HGT to occur, DNA has to be available in the environment. DNA released into the aqueous environment or soil is subjected to degradation by dynamic biological, physical, and chemical factors which are working against the success of HGT. However, findings of ancient DNA in sediments as well as degradation experiments show that minerals can protect the DNA allowing it to survive over time and in conditions that would otherwise be unfavorable for the stability of DNA. Minerals that are able to preserve DNA across timescales would function as selectors for transfer of genetic material between distant organisms, hence the availability and whereabouts of those minerals through time would impact the evolution of life.

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APPROACH

Currently we are combining top down and bottom up approaches to address this hypothesis. 

We are using atomic force microscopy to study stabilization of DNA on mineral surfaces and we are setting up microbial work to address the uptake rate into  soil relevant microbes.

Stay tuned for updates 

In the meantime:

https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2018.02217

The idea and potential impact is illustrated in the schematics below. 

SIMPLIFIED FRAMEWORK ILLUSTRATING MINERAL FACILITATED HGT

AND PROPOSED IMPACT FOR THE EVOLUTION OF EARLY LIFE

STUDENT PROJECTS

Calling students with interest in

geology, chemistry or (geo)microbiology

Visualization of DNA-mineral interaction dynamics

Biofilm formation on mineral surfaces

Enzymatic DNA degradation

The studies will include and a range of spectroscopy and microscopic tools, and potentially genomics and fieldwork.

No knowledge of those is required beforehand. 

Send an informal email for for more info: kks@sund.ku.dk

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FUNDING

Moving on to the next stage with this research Program is funded by the Carlsberg Foundation through a Young Researcher Fellowship.

Implication for propagation of antibiotic resistance genes are funded through a VILLUM Young Investigator grant

Proof of concept studies are funded by the Danish Research Counsel on their DFF-ERC initiative.

Idea and hypothesis development was under funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 663830 and the Welsh Government and Higher Education Funding Council for Wales through the Sêr Cymru National Research Network for Low Carbon, Energy and Environment.

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