Tag Archives: bacteria

OSU Scientist Reconstructs Four-billion year old (yes, 4-billion) Genetic Code

The following is a news release from Oklahoma State University

(STILLWATER, Okla., August 9, 2016) – An Oklahoma State University microbiologist and a colleague have reported progress in understanding the evolutionary origin of the genetic code used by all known cells. The scientists reconstructed the genetic code of the last universal common ancestor (LUCA), believed by some scientists to be the origin of all life on Earth.

Wouter Hoff, with OSU’s Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, and Peter van der Gulik, with CWI, the Netherland’s national research institute for mathematics and computer science, published their findings in the journal PLoS ONE. The evolutionary origin of the genetic code has remained a scientific puzzle since its original discovery in the 1960s, which was a seminal breakthrough in understanding the molecular basis of life.

OSU Microbiologist Dr. Wouter Hoff

OSU Microbiologist Dr. Wouter Hoff

LUCA is the proposed single-cell organism that gave rise to the current three domains of life: Archaea, Bacteria, and Eucarya that includes plants and animals. It is believed LUCA lived four billion years ago and may have developed in the extreme conditions surrounding deep sea vents where magma rises to the surface. The properties of LUCA and its possible resemblance to present day organisms are currently attracting intense scientific attention and mainstream news coverage. An influential, but hotly debated, notion is that modern Archaea living in extreme environments most resemble LUCA.

“Our reconstruction of LUCA’s genetic code reveals that the evolution of the set of transfer RNA molecules that are at the center of the genetic code was already almost complete in LUCA,” said Hoff. “Our work reveals that the set of transfer RNA molecules in LUCA closely resembles that in present day Archaea. In this respect, the primordial character referred to in the name of Archaea seems very appropriate.”

To obtain their results, Hoff and van der Gulik used recent genomic and biochemical data in combination with a largely ignored but central biochemical regularity in the genetic code.

“While many questions regarding the origin of the genetic code remain to be addressed, this publication makes a clear step in elucidating part of the evolutionary development of this process that is so important for all living organisms,” Hoff said.

Want more? Click here to read the article Hoff published.

Ancient Dental Plaque

A University of Oklahoma scientist is perfecting the art (and by art I mean science) of studying ancient dental plaque. We’ve highlighted Dr. Christina Warinner before when her research gained national recognition. Now she’s featured in a fantastic video produced by Illumina. The company describes itself as, “a leading developer, manufacturer, and marketer of life science tools and integrated systems for large-scale analysis of genetic variation and function.” 

Dr. Warinner likes to say she’s an “archaeologist of the invisible”. She studies the dental plaque from teeth that are thousands of years old. Bacteria covers that dental plaque, from that she’s able to learn all kinds of things about the person who once used that tooth. Where they lived, what they ate, whether they were healthy or not, etc…

This video is an amazing look inside the process.

It’s what’s in the Gut that matters

Scientists at the University of Oklahoma are getting international attention for research into what’s in your gut. Cecil Lewis and his team at the Laboratories of Molecular Anthropology and Microbiome Research at OU studied what’s inside the guts of a group of Norman residents and compared it to the guts of a hunter-gatherer society in the Amazon.

They found that the population of gut microbes of the people in the Amazon and city-dwellers in Norman have some significant differences. For example, one microbe called Treponema was not found in the Norman population but was found in the tribe of hunter-gatherers. This is a bacteria that has been in human and primate guts for millions of years.

“In our study, we show that these lost bacteria are in fact multiple species that are likely capable of fermenting fiber and generating short chain fatty acids in the gut.  Short chain fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties.  This raises an important question, could these lost Treponema be keystone species that explain the increased risk for autoimmunce disorders in industrialized people?  This is what we hope to explore next,” says Lewis.

You can read the research for yourself in nature.  Or you can read this article in Science Magazine by Ann Gibbons to see how researchers convinced the tribe in the Amazon to let them study their guts. (Let’s just say, sometimes science ain’t pretty.). Gibbons sums it up quite nicely about what this means and why this kind of research is important.