Scientists have shown that E. coli one of the best known and extensively studied organisms in the world remains an enigma that may hold the key to human diseases, such as cancer.
The team, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and based at the University of Dundee has examined the genome sequence of this workhorse of the laboratory and spotted three previously unknown genes that, it turns out, are essential for the survival of E. coli and one out of the three could also be implicated in cancer or developmental abnormalities in humans. These mystery genes are also found in numerous other creatures, suggesting a vital role for them across many species. The research will be published in the 1 August edition of the Journal of Bacteriology.
The effort over recent years to sequence genomes of various important species has uncovered many previously unknown genes. This has given scientists the opportunity to choose to study these genes now, rather than waiting for them to make themselves known serendipitously e.g. when they are implicated in disease. Professor Tracy Palmer and her colleagues have taken three genes identified through sequencing of the E. coli genome and studied them to discover their significance.
Professor Palmer said: "Scientists have been studying E. coli genes for many, many years and we thought we knew pretty much all there was to know we certainly didn't expect to find any more genes that are essential for survival!
"Finding out that these genes are essential in E. coli and also appear in the genomes of other species tells us that they are very important indeed. In the case of one of the genes it is also found in the human genome, which makes it especially interesting. The mystery remains as to what they actually do, but whatever it is, it must be really crucial.
"Because we now know that one of these genes is found
|Contact: Nancy Mendoza|
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council