Groundwater, sediment and wetland soils, as well as the backyard of a house in California (USA) are the habitat of a variety of DNA sequences that geneticists have not been able to attribute to any known class of organisms, according to a new study that still awaits your review by pairs.
Some of these stretches of genetic material were found by chance, others as a result of the intentional search, but all include fragments of the genomes belonging to different bacteria or archaea, a primitive class of single-celled organisms that do without both the nucleus and oxygen in their cells. metabolism.
However, the double-stranded molecules found are too large to belong to archaea, so the researchers have compared genes outside their species with the characters from the fictional series Star Trek, called ‘Borgs’, a group of alien humanoids who combine the synthetic with the organic to improve their physical and mental abilities.
The team from the University of California at Berkeley proposed precisely that name to designate the extrachromosomal elements, explained in a recent statement the microbiologist and first author of the study, Basem al Shayeb. According to the expert, all these kinds of findings were “very strange because it didn’t look like a virus, plasmid or minichromosome“.
Meanwhile, other lead author Jillian Banfield wrote on Twitter that it is something “neither alive nor dead that assimilates and shares important genes.” In this sense, he assured that they found “something enigmatic” that is “related to the microbial genome”.
It was she who found the first batch of the ‘Borgs’ in the mud from the backyard of your home. That DNA consisted of approximately one million base pairs, those knots present in the double strands of gene material. More than half of the genes they were new, and the rest were known to specialists, something that was repeated in subsequent samples. At the end of each strand of DNA, the genes had the reverse order: a characteristic linked to the capacity of self-replication, present in viruses.
“We could not show that they were primitive viruses, plasmids or small chromosomes, nor neither could we prove that they were not viruses“The researchers admit. In addition, they found that they cannot grow these molecules in laboratory conditions.
In this scenario, the team focused on the similar genes of certain microbes that in nature oxidize methane, a greenhouse gas. Thus, this function of the ‘Borgs’ could be useful for reducing the amount of methane in the atmosphere, the authors estimate.
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