Saturday, June 23, 2007

Monsters from the Deep

Some diseases are caused by bacterial monsters, and now we learn some of these creatures may have come to us from miles beneath the ocean's surface.

Recent Japanese oceanographic research at hydrothermal vents in the Pacific has revealed a striking genetic similarity between bacteria engaged in chemosynthesis at deep-sea vents and mammalian bacterial pathogens. This points to a direct evolutionary link between the bugs that make us sick and the bugs on the bottom of the sea.

Satoshi Nakagawa of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology said his team has revealed that vent bacteria in the pitch-black, superheated, methane and sulphide infused environment have developed the ability to be rather facile, free and loose with genes - dropping some, gaining others, mutating quickly to adapt to the extreme conditions at these volcanic hot-spots - exactly the traits a pathogenic invader would need to survive the ravages of a host's immune response. According to the evidence in the genome, some of these bacteria may have left life at the hydrothermal vents for a new one as a pathogen on the planet's surface.

And in our bodies.

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