Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

Gene Trading Among Cheese Bugs

Bacteria involved in cheese-making have been trading genes amongst themselves, New Scientist reports.

A trio of researchers from the University of California, San Diego, and Tufts University compared 31 newly sequenced and 134 previously sequenced bacterial isolates obtained from the rinds of traditionally aged cheeses from France, Italy, Spain, and the US. As they report in a preprint at BioRxiv, the researchers uncovered more than 200 genomic regions that appeared to have been horizontally transferred between the bacteria. Those regions contain some 4,800 genes, they note.

Many of these genes are involved in nutrient acquisition especially of iron and lactate, which suggests that horizontal gene transfer confers a selective advantage, the trio adds.

"So if you think about it, it's not that surprising," Tom Beresford from the Irish Teagasc Food Research Center tells the New Scientist. "But I had never thought about whether it occurs in the cheese environment."

The New Scientist notes that a lack of iron is what limits many disease-causing bacteria and worries about what could happen if those bacteria swap genes with these cheese-dwelling bacteria.

The research trio notes that they focused their study on bacteria and that there could also be gene transfers occurring between fungi that are used in cheese-making as well as between fungi and bacteria.