(ORDO NEWS) — Fictional species have repeatedly appeared in fiction, which, for the sake of their own survival, assimilated other people’s genes and forced them to work for their own benefit.
Now, on a completely non-fictional planet Earth, scientists have discovered that one type of microorganism has absorbed DNA from many other species and is ready to help humanity cope with global warming.
The methane-splitting microorganism Methanoperedens may look like a bacterium, but it is actually an archaea, a creature from a completely different line of evolution that has nothing to do with real bacteria.
They differ in the structure of cell membranes and organelles, the composition of DNA and RNA, and much more.
Now, scientists have discovered yet another trait in archaea that no other microorganism has: giant intracellular DNA structures that serve to speed up the processing of methane.
Since the genes of many species were identified in these structures, scientists called them “Borgs” – after the name of the cyborg people from the American Star Trek series assimilating other species.
True, archaeal borg are able to transfer genes only between microorganisms, but their efficiency is impressive: these linear DNA molecules, whose length can be up to a third of the length of the entire cellular genome, contain all the genes necessary for the independent splitting of methane.
In other words, it is a “cell within a cell” that greatly accelerates the splitting of methane by duplicating the process.
By studying methane-splitting archaea in samples from soil, aquifers and riverbeds in California and Colorado, the scientists found 19 different Borg that had assembled genes from other archaea and bacteria.
The researchers hypothesized that the former hosts of these genes were devoured by Methanoperedens and “tamed”: similarly, plant ancestors devoured free-living cyanobacteria, which eventually became their chloroplasts.
Unfortunately, scientists have not yet learned how to culture archaea in the laboratory, which makes it difficult to study their cells and the influence of various Borg on them.
It is possible that archaea use the Borg as a “pantry” for the genes needed for splitting methane, because the amount of this gas in natural conditions fluctuates throughout the year.
It is likely that during periods of abundance, the Borg can help the Archaea break down more methane than it can on its own. And this gives the cell a competitive advantage over non-Borg neighbors.
Finally, the main question: can such unique structures help mankind to contain the pace of global warming by reducing the amount of methane entering the atmosphere?
The answer is most likely yes, although it will take a lot of work to achieve this: scientists will have to discover a way to cultivate archaea and transfer Borg from cell to cell, so that in the end these crumbs, filled to capacity with Borg, can turn into a methane processing machine.
And just as the fictional Borg existed for the good of their community, the real ones will work for the sake of all life on Earth.
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