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Deep Sea 'Pharmacists' Make Their Own Antibiotics

Nov 28, 2014 11:02 AM EST

We're not the only creatures on this planet that find the need to craft the occasional antibiotic. Researchers have recently determined that a whole host of deep sea creatures and even some obscure land dwellers boast genes that seem dedicated to fighting off bacteria in the same way a prescription drug would.

That's at least according to a pair of studies published this week in the journals Nature and eLife, which detail how the same stunning genetic information is showing up in aphids, ticks, moss, phages, and even some microbes.

The second  study in particular reveals that the same genetic information that helps make a powerful antibiotic for Aciduliprofundum boonei - a single-celled Archaea that lives atop undersea thermal vents all over the world - can also be found in some bacteria, despite the fact that Archaea cannot be more different than bacteria.

It's important to note that the antibiotics these specialized genes are helping to make are far different than the action of a standard immune system, which relies on specialized cells and adaptation. These antibiotics instead function much like our own, widely targeting threatening microbes on an "as needed" basis.

So how is it that all these species, below the sea and on ground, from numerous domains on the tree of life all have the same gene? It's not really clear, but the authors behind these studies suggest that it may be a side to evolution we didn't see coming.

"There's no conceptual barrier saying that this couldn't happen," Seth Bordenstein, a geneticist who studies the Aciduliprofundum's antibiotic gene, told Popular Science.

According to the geneticist, the theory is that all these species actually absorbed these combative genes from bacteria that will use it to remain competitive - as seen in the mysterious Strain 115.

And what's cool about bacteria is that they are very "loose" with their genetic information, passing it around much more easily than other kinds of life. This is even how new genes can be inserted into some rare types of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

"We predict that findings like this will be more common in the future," Bordenstein added, "particularly as more genome sequences from diverse organisms get entered into databases."

That's certainly not a bad thing. Experts are currently scrambling to find new antibiotics that are not being resisted by bacteria, and taking some hints from nature may help save the day for an overmedicated humanity.

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