Borg DNA from California mud


Taking DNA samples from temporary springtime pond

In the TV series Star Trek, the Borg are cybernetic aliens that assimilate humans and other creatures as a means of achieving perfection. So when Jill Banfield, a geomicrobiologist at the University of California, Berkeley, sifted through DNA in the mud of her backyard and discovered a strange linear chromosome that included genes from a variety of microbes, her Trekkie son proposed naming it after the sci-fi aliens. The new type of genetic material was a mystery. Maybe it was part of a viral genome. Maybe it was a strange bacterium. Or maybe it was just an independent piece of DNA existing outside of cells…

But Banfield wasn’t looking for DNA that could move between organisms. Instead, she and graduate student Basem Al-Shayeb were searching for viruses that infect archaea, a type of microbe often found in places devoid of oxygen. They would dig 1 meter or more below the surface and collect mud samples that might harbor archaea and their viruses. Next, they would sequence every stretch of DNA in the samples and use sophisticated computer programs to scan for sequences that signified a virus, rather than any other organism…

Banfield says she and her colleagues don’t really know how Borgs arose, but they suspect that at one time, the DNA sequences were the genomes of a close relative of Methanoperedens that got scooped up and began living inside the archaeon. Eventually only the DNA, now much modified, remains inside the microbe, but apart from its own chromosome…

Interesting read. Hope it encourages other scientists (and science-minded curious folk) to duplicate the experiments.

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