Synthetic biologists in the United States have recreated a gene found in a 500 million year old ancestor to the bacteria E. coli and replaced it with its modern equivalent in order to study how the organism has evolved.
Betül Kaçar and Eric Gaucher of the Georgia Institute of Technology determined the ancient gene’s structure by comparing the DNA of related species and then they reconstructed it in a laboratory, according to TechnologyReview.com.
The scientists then replaced the modern version of the gene with the ancient one in a population of modern E. coli.
“This marks the first time an ancient gene has been genomically integrated in place of its modern counterpart within a contemporary organism,” the biologists said, TechnologyReview.com reports.
Kaçar and Gaucher said the altered E. coli will allow them to observe how the ancient gene evolves over time. They will be able to see whether it follows the same pattern or develops in an entirely different direction.
The bacteria’s adaptations will be measured using certain fitness criteria, such as how long it takes for the population to double and then compare the results to the modern organism.
Ultimately, the scientists hope to gain a better understanding of whether evolution leads to a single point or has multiple solutions, whether certain mutations are predictable and whether or not universal laws govern the changes.