A 500 million-year-old bacteria has been resurrected after scientists inserted its ancient gene into modern day Escherichia coli (E coli) bacteria in an experiment that resonates the catastrophic recreation of the dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park films.
Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology at a process called paleo-experimental evolution to bring the prehistoric organisms back to life and the newly-created germ is thriving and has now been growing for more than 1,000 generations, allowing researchers to observe its evolution.
The researchers hope to see whether the bacteria brought back to life from the Paleozoic era will evolve the same way it did the first time around or whether it will evolve into a different, new organism.
“This is as close as we can get to rewinding and replaying the molecular tape of life,” scientist Betül Kaçar, a NASA astrobiology postdoctoral fellow in Georgia Tech’s NASA Center for Ribosomal Origins and Evolution, said in a university news release.
“The ability to observe an ancient gene in a modern organism as it evolves within a modern cell allows us to see whether the evolutionary trajectory once taken will repeat itself or whether a life will adapt following a different path.”
Scientists said that at first the new "chimeric" bacteria, composed of both modern and ancient genes, grew about two times slower than its modern day counterpart, it has since mutated rapidly to become stronger and healthier than today's bacteria.
“The altered organism wasn’t as healthy or fit as its modern-day version, at least initially,” said Gaucher, “and this created a perfect scenario that would allow the altered organism to adapt and become more fit as it accumulated mutations with each passing day.”
The organism's growth rate eventually accelerated and after 500 generations, the scientists sequenced the genomes of all eight lineages, identical bacterial strains scientists had made in the beginning, to determine how the bacteria adapted.
Shockingly, not only did the health levels of the Frankenstein bacteria increase to nearly modern-day levels, some of the lineages actually became healthier and thrived better than modern day bacteria.
After examining the mutations, researchers noticed that every Elongation Factor-Tu (EF-Tu) gene, an essential protein in E. coli did not accumulate mutations, instead the modern proteins that interact with the ancient EF-Tu inside the bacteria had mutated and were responsible for the rapid adaptation and increased the bacteria's fitness.
Scientists explained that while the ancient gene has not yet mutated to become more similar to its modern form, it appeared to have found a new evolutionary trajectory to adapt.
The findings were presented at the NASA International Astrobiology Science Conference, and researchers will continue to study new generations, and waiting to see if the protein will follow its previous path or whether it will evolve through a new path altogether.
“We think that this process will allow us to address several longstanding questions in evolutionary and molecular biology,” said Kaçar.
“Among them, we want to know if an organism’s history limits its future and if evolution always leads to a single, defined point or whether evolution has multiple solutions to a given problem,” Kaçar concluded.