Worldwide bacteria network may readily swap beneficial genes

November 3, 2011

Frequency of horizontal gene transfer between different environments for all functional groups (a,b) and antibiotic resistance genes only (c,d) (credit: Chris S. Smillie et al./Nature)

MIT researchers have found evidence of a massive network connecting bacteria from around the world: 10,000 unique genes flowing via horizontal gene transfer (HGT) among 2,235 bacterial genomes.

HGT is an ancient method for bacteria from different lineages to acquire and share useful genetic information they didn’t inherit from their parents. The MIT team’s work illustrates the vast scale and rapid speed with which genes can proliferate across bacterial lineages.

Ref.: Chris S. Smillie et al., Ecology drives a global network of gene exchange connecting the human microbiome, Nature (2011) [DOI: 10.1038/nature10571]