A team of researchers at Macquarie University, in Australia, has found evidence to show that some archaea have integrons. In their paper published in the journal Science advancesthe group describes how they used a recently developed technique called metagenome-assembled genomes (MAG) to study the genomes of archaea samples in a new way, and what they learned by doing so.
Life on Earth is divided into three domains, eukaryotes, bacteria, and archaea. The third domain, Archaea, is similar to bacteria—its members are often called Archaebacteria. Like bacteria, archaea are unicellular but unlike bacteria depend on lipids in their cell membranes.
In this new effort, the researchers were investigating the means by which bacteria and genes can exchange genes and wondered if they might have integrons—gene capture and dissemination systems in bacteria that use gene cassettes to pass on the respective proteins. To find out, they turned to MAG technology — a technology that allows searching for single gene and genomic recombination sites called AttC, a sequence encoding the protein Integron Integrase (IntI).
Using this technique, they find many matches. Of the 6,700 genomes they scanned, they found 75 matches, across nine phyla, each evidence of complementarity. And it turned out that they all had the same structure as integrins in bacteria, which suggested the use of the cassette.
The researchers believe this indicates that the archaea they identified should be able to swap genes with bacteria and vice versa, as easily as bacteria swap genes between themselves. To prove their idea was correct, they synthesized AttC from a sample of Archaea and exposed it to a sample of Escherichia coli. Testing showed that the cassettes were created to allow gene exchange to occur.
Finding intetrons in Archaea would certainly open up new avenues of research. One is research into the possibility that switching genes from archaea to recent bacteria can help them become resistant to drugs intended to kill them. The researchers also note that it would be beneficial to provide a complete genome for archaea.
Timothy M. Galli et al., Discovery of integrators in Archaea: platforms for cross-domain gene transfer, Science advances (2022). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abq6376
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