July 5, 2006
Bioengineering professor Adam Arkin and colleagues have determined the life cycle of operons, small groups of genes with related functions that are co-transcribed in a single strand of messenger RNA.
Present in all known bacterial genomes, operons play a crucial role in gene expression programs that enable microbes to adapt to environmental stresses. This research will immediately benefit scientists who study bacteria, and could have eventual use in the field of synthetic biology.
In their study, the genome of Escherichia coli was compared to Salmonella typhimurium and other close relatives, in order to identify recently formed and destroyed operons. The results showed that both operon creation and destruction lead to large changes in gene expression patterns, suggesting that operon evolution reflects a microbe’s adaptation to differing lifestyles. The researchers used their findings to create a model for operon evolution which they believe will encourage other biologists to re-think their views on the role of of operons in the adaptation of microbes to their environment.
The research was published in the June 2006 edition of the Public Library of Science’s Genetics section. Read the full story at Lawrence Berkeley Lab .