When scientists discovered the worm deep in the aquifer almost one mile below the ground, they greeted it as a discovery of the deepest living animal ever found. Now scientists from the American University, reporting in Nature Communications sequenced the genome of a unique animal, known as the "Devil Worm", for its ability to survive in harsh subsurface conditions. The Devil Worm genome provides guidance on how the body adapts to lethal environmental conditions. Future research into how it evolved could help people learn how to adapt to a warming climate.
In 2008, Gaetan Borgonie of Ghent University of Ghent and Princeton University, Tullis Onstott discovered a microscopic devil worm while investigating subterrestrial bacterial communities in active gold mines in South Africa. Borgonia and his team were amazed to discover a worm, a complex, multicellular animal that thrives in an environment considered only suitable for microbes, with high temperatures, low oxygen, and large amounts of methane. The researchers named the worm Halicephalobus mephisto, in honor of the Mephistopheles, the underground demon of the medieval German legend Faust.
Evolutionary Adaptation to Heat
The Devil's Worm is the first underground animal to have a sequenced genome. The genome offers evidence of how life can exist beneath the earth's surface, and opens a new way of understanding how life can survive beyond the earth, said John Bracht, a professor of biology at the University of America, who led the genome sequencing project. Sequencing revealed that the genome encodes an unusually large amount of heat shock proteins known as Hsp70, which is remarkable because many species of nematodes whose genomes are sequenced do not reveal such a large amount. Hsp70 is a well-studied gene that exists in all life forms and restores cell health due to thermal damage. Many Hsp70 genes in the Devil Worm genome were copies of them. The genome also has additional copies of the AIG1genes, known cell survival genes in plants and animals. Further research will be needed, but Bracht believes that the presence of copies of the gene is an evolutionary adaptation of the worm.
“The devil worm cannot escape; it is underground, ”Bracht explained. “He has no choice but to adapt or die. We suggest that when an animal cannot escape the intense heat, it will start making additional copies of these two genes to survive. ” The animals he identified are bivalve molluscs, a group of molluscs including mussels, oysters and mussels. They are adapted to heat as the Devil Worm. This suggests that the model identified in the devil worm may extend more broadly to organisms that are unable to escape environmental heat. This work was also recently published in the Journal of Molecular Evolution with the first author of the Bachelor of Biology AU study, Megan Guerin.
" Aliens landed in the AU "
Bracht was given the chance to sort the Unique Worm Worm as a postdoctoral student at Princeton University. When he joined the Faculty of Biology in 2014, he transferred this project to the American University. Two students of the master's biology course at his laboratory, Deborah Weinstein and Sarah Allen, contributed to research and writing Nature Communications and are the first. and other authors of the manuscript. Kathryn Walters-Conte, Ph.D., Director of the AU Biotechnology program at the AU.
Nearly ten years ago, the devil worm was unknown and lived beneath the earth's surface. It is now the subject of study in scientific laboratories, including Bracht. When Bracht brought Devil Worms from a laboratory in South Africa that cultivated them in his AU laboratory, he reminds his students that the aliens have landed in the AU. Metaphor is not stretch. NASA supports devil worm research on what it can teach scientists about finding life outside the Earth.
“Part of this work is looking for the“ biological signatures ”of life – stable chemical traces left by living things. We focus on the ubiquitous biological signature of organic life – genomic DNA – obtained from an animal that has adapted to an environment that was considered uninhabitable for complex life: a deep terrestrial subsurface, ”Bracht said. "It is a work that could encourage us to extend the search for extraterrestrial life to the deep subterrestrial regions of" uninhabitable "exoplanets." They have adapted to a diverse environment and are among the largest animals on Earth. Future work on the devil's worm at the Bracht Laboratory will determine the function of Hsp70, such as inactivating a gene to test its response to thermal stress. Further work could include gene transfer studies in C.elegans, a type of heat intolerant microscopic roundworm, to see if it becomes heat resistant.
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Weinstein DJ, Allen S, Lau M, Erasmus M, Asalone KC, Walters-Conte K, Deikus G, Sebra R, Borgonia G, van Heerden E, Onstott TC, Bracht, JR. The genome of the underground nematode reveals an evolutionary strategy of adaptation to heat. Nature Communications . DOI: 10.1038 / s41467-019-13245-8
Megan N. Guerin et al. The Mollusca and Nematoda exhibition adapted to stress converges to the extension of the Hsp70 and AIG1 genes, Journal of Molecular Evolution (2019). DOI: 10.1007 / s00239-019-09900-9
Scientists look at the devil worm genome (2019, Nov. 21)
renewed on November 21, 2019
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