Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have recently published a paper which explains how Prochlorococcus bacteria, which are responsible for a large amount of the oceans’ oxygen production, are able to survive in a range of oceanic environments using what they are describing to be like a “genetic LEGO set”.
It was found that these organisms are able to use a form of gene transfer using what the scientists have called “tycheposons.” These are blocks of DNA which are able to detach and then be transported to other organisms via vesicles produced from their cell membrane. They are also able to “hijack” infectious particles known as capsids from viruses and travel from one organism to another. Evidence of this has been found when capsids and vesicles have been collected and studied from the ocean and found to contain this same genetic material.
Tycheposons are thought to be particularly special as they are helping the receiving organism to adapt or diversify by being able do things such as metabolise a particular nutrient for survival or to defend itself from viruses.
This means that one organism has the ability to send another genetic material that can help it adapt to its environment even when they are not in particularly close together!
How amazing is it that something as tiny as a bacteria can do something as complex as this?!