Microbes in the News (#3)

Emily Werner

Title: Microbes in the human body swap genes, even across tissue boundaries: study

Summary: A team of researchers from the University of Illinois developed a method that helped to identify when HGT is taking place in the human biome. They concluded that microbes with similar DNA will readily carry out HGT with each other regardless of their location in the body. Microbes with similar DNA will swap genes with each other even if one is in the large intestine and the other is on the skin. They perform HGT more than with microbes in their same location with less similar DNA (i.e. mouth, GI tract, skin.)


The shortcomings of this method don’t help to determine the ancient HGT that occurred between species millions of years ago but they do help to determine the more recent gene transfers.


Connection: We’ve learned a lot about HGT in class and that this is a method that microbes use to transfer antibiotic resistance genes from one another. This article tells about how microbes in the human gut will do the same.


Critical Analysis: This article is general and ideal for anyone wanting to learn more about what is going on in research who don’t have a deep background in natural science. They discuss that this method they created for determining HGT is best for looking at the genes that were recently inherited, but they don’t specify that timeline. I think that since they specify ancient inheritance of genes, they should also do the same to give reference.  


Question: If antibiotic resistance is such a “scary’ thing today, how were we able to survive for millions of years before modern-day soaps and antibiotics?

In the simplified version, if antibiotics were critical to our survival, we should’ve gone extinct long ago why didn’t we?


Link: https://phys.org/news/2019-04-microbes-human-body-swap-genes.html

1 Comment for “Microbes in the News (#3)”



What a cool story! One thing that I don’t quite understand is how in the world microbes are able to transfer genes if they are located at completely opposite ends of the body. To a microbe that would be like travelling to the moon! It seems highly unlikely that DNA from microbes in the the GI tract could make it all the way to microbes on the skin without being degraded by acid or enzymes. I would be cautious of this study since it was an observational study and not a randomized experiment. Therefore, we cannot draw cause and effect only correlations.
To answer your question: we were able to survive just as all other organisms do! By natural selection and innate resistance. In order to survive before antibiotics it was important to not get seriously hurt, because any infection could be life threatening. However, with antibiotics that is no longer an issue. I think that the discovery and widespread use of antibiotics is one of the sources of the major population boom that has occurred in the last two centuries.

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