Natural GMOs Part 79. It’s not surprising to find, yet again, that genes move around a lot in the ocean

Genetic escape pods
Microbes share and preserve their genetic material by releasing bodies that resemble viruses into the environment

[Published 1st October 2010 02:49 PM GMT at The Scientist]

Packaging random snippets of DNA into virus-like capsules known as gene transfer agents, or GTAs, may be a key way for marine bacteria to exchange genetic information, a new paper in Science suggests.

While this gene-swapping mechanism has been known for decades, the extent to which GTAs were relevant to microbes in the real world was unclear, having been observed in a limited number of species and almost exclusively inside microbiology labs.

But a team of researchers, headed by University of South Florida marine microbiologist John Paul, demonstrated that GTAs isolated from lab-grown bacteria conferred antibiotic resistance to a wide range of microbes naturally growing in the warm waters of the Gulf Coast, and at a much higher rate than expected.(More at link)

Original article
L.D. McDaniel, et al., “High frequency of horizontal gene transfer in the Oceans,” Science, 330:50, 2010.

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David Tribe

Written by David Tribe

David Tribe’s research career in academia and industry has covered molecular genetics, biochemistry, microbial evolution and biotechnology. He has over 60 publications and patents. Dr. Tribe's recent activities focus on agricultural policy and food risk management. He teaches graduate programs in food science and risk management as a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Agriculture and Food Systems, University of Melbourne.


  1. This sounds a lot more like natural selection/evolution than genetic modification. But then again, I’m no applied geneticist.

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