Birds do it and bees do it as celebration of life. Science Daily explains how bacteria can do it – and make themselves antibiotic-resistant – by using dead cells to reproduce:
Bacteria don’t have sex as such, but they can mix their genetic material by pulling in DNA from dead bacterial cells and inserting these into their own genome. New research has found that this process — called recombination — is more complex than was first thought. The findings, published today in PLoS Genetics, could help us understand why bacteria which cause serious diseases are able to evade vaccines and rapidly become drug-resistant.
In ‘micro-recombination’, the bacteria regularly incorporate small amounts of DNA that make little difference to their genome. Although ‘macro-recombination’ takes place less frequently, it involves the bacteria taking on large amounts of DNA which make a significant change to the genome. It is this second process which the scientists believe enables the bacteria to change their appearance to evade vaccines or potentially take on resistance to drug treatments.
The scientists found that recombination took place frequently in the evolution of the more resistant lineage they studied, and less frequently in the less resistant lineage. However, it was clear from the sequencing data that both strains had undergone micro- and macro-recombination.
“This is a major step forward in our understanding of how recombination can result in bacteria evading vaccines and acquiring resistance to antibiotics,” says Dr [Rafal] Mostowy [of Imperial College London’s School of Public Health].