Planktonic bacteria inhabiting the world's oceans have streamlined their genetic makeup to become lean, mean survival machines finds new study.
The findings by an international team of researchers, including microbiologists at the University of British Columbia, is the first direct evidence of widespread genome reduction-organisms evolving to cast off superfluous genes and traits in favor of simpler, specialized genetic make-ups optimized for rapid growth.
"Microbes are the dominant form of life on the planet and comprise a huge proportion of the oceans' biomass, but we know next to nothing about how populations exist, evolve and interact outside of the lab," UBC microbiologist Steven Hallam, Canada Research Chair in Environmental Genomics and author on the paper, said.
"This widespread, signal cell genome sequencing of marine bacteria in the surface ocean has uncovered a surprising amount of metabolic specialization. This tendency toward genome reduction has profound implications for how microbial communities develop metabolic interactions that couple nutrient and energy flow patterns in the ocean. It could be a matter of survival of the most connected," he said.
Ramunas Stepanauskas, director of the Bigelow Single Cell Genomics Centre and the paper's lead author said that they found natural bacterioplankton are devoid of 'genomic pork' such as gene duplications and noncoding nucleotides, and utilize more diverse energy sources than previously thought.
The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.