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« Collateral Damage | Main | Say, Brother, Can You Spare a DNA? »

May 28, 2009

Talmudic Question #49

by Ian Booth

Do bacteria ever take up intact RNA molecules?


I think that we are discussing rare "errors" in normal prokaryotic metabolism. Rosie Redfield believes that natural transformation is a variant method of obtaining nutrition---her "genes for breakfast" hypothesis.

That being said, I seem to remember a bit of early literature describing the transfection of bacterial cells by RNA phage genomes. That would be close to the goal, would it not?


Well, okay, I actually have no idea, it just seems vaguely plausible to me. Given the ridiculously huge range of prokaryote phenotypes out there, I have trouble imagining that there isn't at least one out there that can't take up strands of RNA if they are ever found floating around in the environment.

I know (or at least recall) that the "natural competence" of certain members of the phylum Firmicutes involves taking up whole strands of DNA, but in single-stranded form. Not much of stretch to imagine an almost identical mechanism for uptake of strands of RNA.

If my assumption that there must be at least one that can do it is correct, the important followup question would be "what could they do with strands of RNA?" Use them as some sort of "sensor" indicating nearby lysed cells, maybe? Or just break it down immediately as nutrients?...

Merry replies:

i have the same notion ---- that there is at least one microbe somewhere that can do anything we can imagine. There have been many that were found to do things we hadn't imagined. As to single-stranded DNA uptake, there is a bit about this in my post scheduled for this coming Monday.

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