Dormant genes are often thought to come into play under stressful conditions, but new simulations show that too many genetic options could be detrimental for the microbe E. coli.
Image courtesy of S.P. Cornelius, J.S. Lee, and A.E. Motter, Northwestern University (2011).
Most of the genetic material in organisms doesn’t do anything most of the time, according to studies that selectively destroy portions of genes without leading to any significant harm. The spare DNA, also known as latent genes, has long been thought to provide alternative genetic code that organisms can rely on in times of stress. However, new simulations, illustrated by the image above, show that reducing the number of latent genes in the microbe E. coli can actually increase the bacteria’s chances of survival.