In Science this week, a team from the University of Michigan describes how certain deep-sea viruses have acquired sulfur-oxidizing genes from bacteria that thrive at those depths. The researchers sequenced the genomes of 18 bacteriophages, obtained from hydrothermal vent plumes, that specifically infect a group of marine bacteria. They found that 15 of their 18 viral genomes contained metabolic genes associated with reverse dissimilatory sulfite reductase, a bacterial enzyme that oxidizes elemental sulfur — an abundant source of energy for bacteria that live near the vents. The findings indicate that these kinds of viral genomes may help sustain chemosynthetic bacteria, the researchers say.
Also in Science, investigators from the Carnegie Institution for Science report on an analysis of the genetics behind the evolution of primary metabolism in plants, as well as the specialized metabolism that allows plants to survive in their particular environments. They compared the genomic signatures of metabolism in 16 different species that included major plant groups such as algae, mosses, grasses, in addition to agriculturally important plants such as maize, soybean, and cassava. The team found that genes for specialized metabolism have expanded much more than those related to primary metabolism. These genes also cluster in a particular way that follows the history of the plants' lineage, indicating that differences in specialized metabolism occurred after major evolutionary branching points. GenomeWeb Daily News also covers this study here.