What happens when you put a 500 million-year-old gene into a modern-day bacterium? Researchers at Georgia Tech are about to find out, says Science 2.0. In what Science 2.0 calls "paleo-experimental evolution," biology professor Eric Gaucher and his colleagues inserted an ancient version of Elongation Factor-Tu into modern day Escherichia coli, and have been growing eight bacterial colonies for more than 1,000 generations to observe in real time how the gene evolved to become the Elongation Factor protein seen in abundance today.
"The chimeric bacteria composed of both modern and ancient genes survived, but grew about two times slower than its counterpart composed of only modern genes," Science 2.0 says. In a statement, Gaucher adds that the altered E. coli "wasn't as healthy or fit as its modern-day version … and this created a perfect scenario that would allow the altered organism to adapt and become more fit as it accumulated mutations with each passing day." After about 500 generations, the researchers sequenced the genomes of all eight lineages and found that the bacteria had become more fit as generations passed, with some becoming even healthier than their modern-day cousins, Science 2.0 says.