Migration between different communities of bacteria is the key to the type of gene transfer that can lead to the spread of traits such as antibiotic resistance, according to researchers. While horizontal gene transfer - also known as bacterial sex - has long been acknowledged as central to microbial evolution, why it is able to exert such a strong effect has remained a mystery. 

But now scientists at Oxford University have demonstrated through mathematical modelling that the secret is migration, whereby movement between communities of microbes greatly increases the chances of different species of bacteria being able to swap DNA and adopt new traits.

The study sheds new light on how the spread of traits such as antibiotic resistance is able to happen.

Prairie gardens offer Midwestern suburban dwellers an alternative option to the traditional grass lawn. Their combination of native grasses, like tall and wispy bluestem and sideoats, and forbs, such as the colorful yellow and purple coneflowers, are a welcome addition to any lawn.

They also attract beneficial bees and other insects, as well as beautiful butterflies. The prairie plants are native to the Midwest and once established can require fewer resources, such as water, fertilizer, and time to maintain.

The hepatitis A virus can trigger acute liver inflammation which generally has a mild course in small children but which can become dangerous in adults. The virus, which is found worldwide, has previously been considered to be a purely human pathogen which at most is found in isolated cases in non-human primates.

Now an international team of researchers under the direction of the University of Bonn has now discovered in a large-scale study with nearly 16,000 specimens from small mammals from various continents that the hepatitis A virus - like HIV or Ebola as well - is of likely animal origin.

We are often told how bad it is to keep sitting at the computer, but one good outcome at least is how some much interesting science news comes one’s way.  One item dated 19 October 2015 from Radboud University (Nijmegen, the Netherlands) states:

Testudinid herpesvirus 3 ( TeHV-3) is a herpes virus causing high mortality rates in several protected species of tortoises (including Hermann’s tortoise).

Understanding of methane-metabolizing organisms might have to be rethought after researchers announced discovery of two new ones.

 The discovery of the novel methane-metabolizing microorganisms was made using techniques that sequence DNA on a large scale and assemble these sequences into genomes using advanced computational tools. 

"Traditionally, these type of methane-metabolizing organisms occur within a single cluster cluster group of microorganisms called Euryarchaeota. This makes us wonder how many other types of methane-metabolizing microorganisms are out there?" asked Gene Tyson, associate professor and Deputy Head of University of Queensland's Australian Centre for Ecogenomics in the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences.  

Scientists engineered stem cells to better understand the mechanisms behind a form of leukemia caused by changes in a key gene.

Past work had established that inherited changes in the DNA code for the gene PTPN11 cause Noonan syndrome, a genetic disease that comes with a high risk for the blood cancer called juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia (JMML). The mechanisms behind the disease, and what influences its severity, were unknown going into the current study.

In addition, the only current treatment for JMML, a bone marrow transplant to replace the hematopoietic stem cells that become blood cells, is effective in only 50 percent of patients. This has further spurred efforts to understand related disease mechanisms as a step toward designing better treatments.

The naturally occurring bacteria on a frog's skin could be the most important tool for helping the animal fight off a deadly skin disease, according to an experiment conducted by Virginia Tech researchers.

Antibiotics to get rid of the normal bacteria don't significantly alter the rate of fungal infection, but they did cause the frogs to lose weight, suggesting that having their normal bacteria is important for frog health. In addition, treatment with probiotic bacteria did not decrease fungal infection as expected.

However, naturally occurring skin bacteria can respond to infection and adjust structure and function to compensate for it, according to the team.

Humans have been breeding crops until they're bigger and more nutritious since the early days of agriculture, but genetic manipulation isn't the only way to give plants a boost. In a review paper, two integrative biologists present how it is possible to engineer the plant soil microbiome to improve plant growth, even if the plants are genetically identical and cannot evolve. 

These artificially selected microbiomes, which can also be selected in animals, can then be passed on from parents to offspring.

A new analysis leads the authors to advance the belief that viruses are living entities that share a long evolutionary history with cells, based on a method for tracing viral evolution back to a time when neither viruses nor cells existed in the forms recognized today.

Until now, viruses have been difficult to classify, said University of Illinois crop sciences and Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology professor Gustavo Caetano-Anollés, who led the new analysis with graduate student Arshan Nasir. In its latest report, the International Committee on the Taxonomy of Viruses recognized seven orders of viruses, based on their shapes and sizes, genetic structure and means of reproducing.