Some bacteria can take in DNA from the environment and add those pieces to their own genome, writes Michael Marshall at the New Scientist. This, he adds, is an often-overlooked mechanism of evolution.
Søren Overballe-Petersen of the Natural History Museum of Denmark has found that bacteria can even incorporate DNA from long-dead organisms, Marshall writes. Overballe-Petersen fed bits of degraded synthetic DNA to Acinetobacter baylyi, finding that the bug sopped them up. It also took up DNA from an old mammoth bone he broke up.
Marshall adds that just what bacteria are doing with these extra pieces of DNA is unclear. But, he says, it may have been a key mechanism driving the early evolution of life as microorganisms traded genes amongst themselves.