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.
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.
I am currently combining top down and bottom up approaches to address this hypothesis.
Updates on progress and ongoing data collection in the Blog
Near-final and Published data will be added below
In the meantime:
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
I am looking for students with knowledge of
geology, chemistry, bioinformatics or microbiology
Bottom-up approaches to look into different aspects of mineral-DNA-microbe interactions types and how those interactions
Top-down approaches to find evidence in field samples for mineral facilitated HGT.
The studies can include and a range of spectroscopy and microscopic tools, genomics and fieldwork.
No knowledge of those is required beforehand.
Send an informal email for for more info:
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.
Proof of concept studies are funded by the Danish Research Counsel on their DFF-ERC initiative.