A transdisciplinary team of researchers led by the Leibniz Institute for Research in Natural Products and Infection Biology, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, and Harvard University has successfully reconstruct the bacterial genomes of previously unknown bacteria dating to the Pleistoceneither. Thanks to a biotechnology platform, they have achieved a historic milestone: reviving ancient bacteria molecules from the Stone Age.
Bacteria, previously unknown, lived in the Pleistocene, over 100,000 years ago. 90,000 years before the closest reconstructed genome we have. The group’s findings and genome reconstruction techniques are described in an article published in the journal Science.
Microorganisms, particularly bacteria, they are quite skilled chemists that can produce an impressive diversity of chemical compounds known as natural products that give them interesting evolutionary advantages, such as allowing them to interact with each other or with their environment or even serve as a shield to defend themselves against certain threats.
Currently, the scientific study of microbial natural products is largely limited to live bacteria, but given thate bacteria have inhabited our planet for more than 3 billion years, there is an enormous diversity of natural products that belong to the Earth’s past and, therefore, unknown, but with therapeutic potential. At least unknown, until now.
“In this study, we have reached an important milestone in revealing the great genetic and chemical diversity of our microbial past,” he explains. Christina Warinner, associate professor of anthropology at Harvard University, group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Development. Anthropology and Affiliate Group Leader at the Leibniz Institute for Research on Natural Products and Infection Biology (Leibniz-HKI) and co-author of the paper.
“Our goal is to chart a path for the discovery of ancient natural products and inform their potential future applications,” he added. Pierre Stallforth, professor of bioorganic chemistry and paleobiotechnology at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena and head of the Department of Paleobiotechnology. at the Leibniz-HKI and also co-author of the study.
Microbes, nature’s best chemicals
Scientists have achieved this milestone of assembling stretches of DNA of more than 100,000 base pairs in length while recovering a wide repertoire of genes and genomes of great antiquity, thanks to fun. Why the tartar? Because it is the only part of the body that fossilizes naturally during life.
The experts focused on dental calculus or tartar from 12 Neanderthals who lived between 102,000 and 40,000 years ago, 34 archaeological humans dating from 30,000–150 years ago, and 18 present-day humans and used available synthetic molecular biotechnology tools to allow living bacteria produced the chemicals encoded by the ancient genes. The experiment was a complete success and led to the discovery of a new family of microbial natural products that the researchers named “paleofurans.”
“This is the first step in accessing the hidden chemical diversity of microbes from Earth’s past, and adds an exciting new time dimension to the discovery of natural products,” said Martin Klapper, postdoctoral researcher at Leibniz-HKI and co-author of the paper. study.
Martin Klapper et al, Natural products from reconstructed bacterial genomes of the Middle and Upper Paleolithic, Science (2023). DOI: 10.1126/science.adf5300. www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.adf5300