The bdelloid rotifer – quirky not kinky

by Sally March

Pembroke Fellow Professor Alan Tunnacliffe has co-authored a report in PLoS Genetics which examines the processes by which up to 10% of the genes of the bdelloid rotifer are acquired from other organisms, in a process known as horizontal gene transfer. The study was undertaken by the University and Cambridge and Imperial College London.

The bdelloid rotifer is one of nature’s great survivors, withstanding stresses and environmental changes that many other animals could not endure, such as desiccation and high levels of ionising radiation. An asexual organism, it has survived for around 80 million years without sexual reproduction, instead producing offspring by parthenogenesis. The problem for many asexual organisms is that without fresh genetic material there is the threat of extinction. The bdelloid rotifer appears to avoid this problem by ingesting DNA from other organic debris, including bacteria, fungi and algae. Amazingly up to 10% of its DNA appears to be foreign.

For more information on this study, please visit the University of Cambridge’s Research News page.

Alternatively, an abstract of the study can be found on the website of PLoS Genetics.

Photo: Scanning electron micrographs showing morphological variation of bdelloid rotifers and their jaws (Diego Fontaneto, March 20, 2007). Source: Who Needs Sex (or Males) Anyway? Gross, L. PLoS Biology Vol. 5, No. 4, e99 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050099