May 18, 2024

Not Science Fiction: Methane-Eating “Borgs” Have Been Assimilating Earth’s Microbes

A digital illustration inspired by methane-eating archaea and the Borgs that absorb them. Credit: Jenny Nuss/Berkeley Lab
A freshly found type of transferrable DNA structure with a sci-fi name appears to contribute in stabilizing atmospheric methane.
In Star Trek, the Borg are a callous, hive-minded cumulative that take in other beings with the intent of taking control of the galaxy. Here on nonfictional world Earth, Borgs are DNA packages that could help human beings combat climate change.
They named the hereditary aspects “Borgs” because the DNA within them contains genes taken in from numerous organisms. In a research study released on October 19 in the journal Nature, the scientists, who were led by Jill Banfield, describe the curious collection of genes within Borgs.

They called the genetic elements “Borgs” because the DNA within them consists of genes absorbed from many organisms. In a research study released on October 19 in the journal Nature, the scientists, who were led by Jill Banfield, explain the curious collection of genes within Borgs. Using advanced genome analysis tools, the team determined that numerous of the series within the Borgs are comparable to the methane-metabolizing genes within the actual Methanoperedens genome. And, in addition to recognizable genes, the Borgs also include unique genes encoding other metabolic proteins, membrane proteins, and extracellular proteins nearly definitely included in electron conduction needed for energy generation, as well as other proteins that have unidentified results on their hosts. The Borgs therefore supply a competitive advantage to methane-eating microbes like Methanoperedens during periods of abundance when there is more methane than their native cellular machinery can break down.

Methanoperedens are a type of archaea (unicellular organisms that look like germs however represent a distinct branch of life) that break down methane (CH4) in soils, groundwater, and the environment to support cellular metabolic process. The gas is produced naturally through geological processes and by methane-generating archaea; nevertheless, commercial processes are releasing kept methane back into the atmosphere in stressing quantities.
Banfield is a faculty scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and professor of Earth & & Planetary Science and Environmental Science, Policy & & Management at the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley). She studies how microbial activities shape large-scale ecological processes and how, in turn, ecological fluctuations change the worlds microbiomes. As part of this work, she and her associates frequently sample microbes in different habitats to see what interesting genes microorganisms are utilizing for survival, and how these genes might impact international cycles of essential elements, such as carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur. The team takes a look at the genomes within cells along with the portable packages of DNA understood as extra-chromosomal elements (ECEs) that transfer genes between bacteria, archaea, and viruses. These elements allow microorganisms to rapidly acquire helpful genes from their next-door neighbors, consisting of those that are just distantly related.
Jill Banfield and Kenneth Williams gather a sample of water from the East River in Colorado to study the ecosystems microbial life. Credit: Roy Kaltschmidt/Berkeley Lab
The scientists found proof of an entirely new type of ECE while studying Methanoperedens sampled from seasonal wetland pool soil in California. Unlike the circular strands of DNA that comprise most plasmids, the most widely known type of extra-chromosomal aspect, the brand-new ECEs are linear and really long– approximately one-third the length of the entire Methanoperedens genome. After examining additional samples from underground soil, aquifers, and riverbeds in California and Colorado that contain methane-consuming archaea, the scientists discovered an overall of 19 unique ECEs they called Borgs. Using advanced genome analysis tools, the group figured out that numerous of the sequences within the Borgs resemble the methane-metabolizing genes within the real Methanoperedens genome. A few of the Borgs even encode all the essential cellular equipment to consume methane by themselves, so long as they are inside a cell that can reveal the genes.
Now you include hereditary components within that cell that can take in methane in parallel and also add genetic components that offer the cell greater capacity. Williams led research at the Rifle, Colorado website where the best defined Borg was recovered, and is likewise primary field researcher of a research site on the East River, near Crested Butte, Colorado, where some of Banfields existing tasting takes location.
The East River field site is part of the Department of Energys Watershed Function Scientific Focus Area, a multidisciplinary research task led by Berkeley Lab that aims to link microbiology and biochemistry with hydrology and climate science. “Our know-how is combining what are typically considered and dealt with as totally disparate fields of questions– huge science that connects whatever from genes all the method approximately atmospheric and watershed procedures.”
Resistance is useless a downside
Banfield and her fellow scientists at UC Berkeleys Innovative Genomics Institute, consisting of co-author and long time partner Jennifer Doudna, hypothesize that the Borgs might be recurring fragments of whole microbes that were engulfed by Methanoperedens to assist metabolic process, comparable to how plant cells utilized previously free-living photosynthetic microbes to get what we now call chloroplasts, and how an ancient eukaryotic cell taken in the ancestors of todays mitochondria. Based upon the resemblances in series, the engulfed cell might have been a relative of Methanoperedens, however the overall variety of genes discovered in the Borgs indicates that these DNA plans were taken in from a wide variety of organisms.
No matter the origin, it is clear that Borgs have existed along with these archaea, shuttling genes backward and forward, for an extremely long time.
Significantly, some Methanoperedens were found with no Borgs. And, in addition to identifiable genes, the Borgs likewise contain special genes encoding other metabolic proteins, membrane proteins, and extracellular proteins likely included in electron conduction required for energy generation, in addition to other proteins that have unidentified effects on their hosts. Until the researchers can culture Methanoperedens in a lab environment, they wont know for sure what capabilities the various Borgs confer, why some microbes use them, and why others dont.
One likely description is that Borgs serve as a locker for metabolic genes that are just needed at specific times. Continuous methane tracking research study has revealed that methane concentrations can vary considerably throughout the year, normally peaking in the fall and dropping to the least expensive levels in early spring. When there is more methane than their native cellular machinery can break down, the Borgs therefore provide a competitive benefit to methane-eating microorganisms like Methanoperedens throughout durations of abundance.
Plasmids are known to serve a comparable purpose, quickly spreading out genes for resistance to hazardous particles (like heavy metals and antibiotics) when the contaminants exist in high adequate concentrations to put in evolutionary pressure.
” There is evidence that different kinds of Borgs often coexist in the exact same host Methanopreredens cell. This opens the possibility that Borgs could be spreading genes throughout lineages,” said Banfield.
Boldly checking out the (microbial) universe
Given that posting their post as a pre-print in 2015, the team has started follow-up work to better comprehend how Borgs might impact biological and geological processes. Some scientists are combing through data sets of genetic material from other microbes, trying to find evidence that Borgs exist in association with other species.
While her associates are using lab-based methods, co-author Susan Mullen, a graduate student in Banfields laboratory, will be getting her feet damp with some very picturesque field work. She recently started a project to sample microorganisms from the floodplains of the East River throughout the year to examine how seasonal modifications in Borg abundance and other microorganisms known to be associated with methane cycling correlate to seasonal fluxes of methane.
According to the authors, years down the line, thoroughly cultured microorganisms chock loaded with Borgs could be used to reduce methane and curb global warming. Its all to benefit the collective– life on Earth.
Recommendation: “Borgs are huge genetic aspects with possible to expand metabolic capability” by Basem Al-Shayeb, Marie C. Schoelmerich, Jacob West-Roberts, Luis E. Valentin-Alvarado, Rohan Sachdeva, Susan Mullen, Alexander Crits-Christoph, Michael J. Wilkins, Kenneth H. Williams, Jennifer A. Doudna and Jillian F. Banfield, 19 October 2022, Nature.DOI: 10.1038/ s41586-022-05256-1.

” Imagine a single cell that has the capability to consume methane. Now you add hereditary components within that cell that can take in methane in parallel and likewise add genetic components that give the cell greater capability. It essentially produces a condition for methane usage on steroids, if you will.”– Kenneth Williams