I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.
(Sound effect: hot bubbling sound) Searing hot springs, Yellowstone National Park, (Sound effect: volcanic tremors) noxious volcanic areas near Reykjavic, Iceland, (Sound effect: dripping mine shaft) dank mineshafts with drainage caustic as battery acid. Not the kind of places we humans like to hang out but there are life forms that have evolved to thrive in such extreme environments. Meet one of them: Galdieria sulphuraria. What's a nice one-celled alga like you doing in places like this? How have you developed such flexibility and resistance to live here?
A team from Oklahoma State and Heinrich-Heine University, Duselldorf have decoded genetic information in Galdieria and discovered the secret to its success: (Sound effect: doorbell) It's borrowed genes from surrounding bacteria making it the first-known organism with a nucleus to adapt to extreme environments by using "horizontal gene transfer," instead of just relying on genes inherited from its own ancestors. Galdieria's heat tolerance seems to stem from a gene copied from bacteria millions of years ago and passed down.
The discovery provides new insights on evolution and could lead to advances in biofuel production, if oil-producing algae can be genetically engineered to withstand extreme conditions--living on borrowed genes.
"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at nsf.gov or on our podcast.