Czech scientists discover organism that is able to adapt to changes in its gene structure

Parasite Blastocrithidia nonstop

A team of Czech scientists say that they have discovered a parasite with a uniquely chaotic gene structure unreadable to viruses. Their research has since been published in the prestigious science journal Nature. The team believes its findings could also help treat human diseases in the future.

The whole discovery began by studying a previously unknown parasite of the trypanosoma genus found inside a beetle near the ruins of Trosky castle. Leoš Valášek from the Institute of Microbiology at the Czech Academy of Sciences says that, unlike the vast majority of organisms, it was difficult to find where the parasite’s individual gene code starts and where it ends.

Leoš Valášek | Photo: YouTube

“We found that its gene code has unique characteristics. By combining several slight differences in the tools that decode the genetic information, the organism managed to adapt to this change to its genes.

“If I were to use an example, imagine having a shovel and shortening the blade by 5 centimetres. Shortening the tool in such a way enables the worker to use the tool in a different way. This difference on the cellular level of the organism makes it possible for it to manage this shift from the standard genetic code. For us humans, with our genetic code, such a shift is impossible.”

The organism’s unique gene code makes it immune to viral infections, as viruses cannot decode and subsequently programme these cells to reproduce. Zuzana Pavlíková, a PhD student at the institute who took part in the research, says that further experimentation on yeast cells has shown this discovery can be built on further.

A previously unknown parasite of the trypanosoma genus was found inside a beetle Eysarcoris aeneus | Photo: Miroslav Fiala,  Czech Academy of Sciences

“We introduced various genes that were either artificially adjusted or changed like those in the trypanosoma. What’s fascinating is that we are able to bring about these changes also in other organisms, such as yeast. We can programme yeast cells to function just as the original organism and they are also able to survive.”

The trypanosoma’s unique genetic information makes it an extremely useful organism for biologists. Julius Lukeš from the Institute of Parasitology at the Biology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences says that further research into the organism could help especially in the fields of molecular biology and genetic engineering.

Parasite Blastocrithidia nonstop | Photo: Jan Votýpka,  Czech Academy of Sciences

“The discovery of this unique Trypanosoma can be transferred into virtually any other cell where it can be used to a limited capacity. No one expected that this would be possible until we found that this organism can live with these changes and function normally.”

The team believes that the discovery could for example lead to advances in the treatment of some hereditary diseases, but further research will be needed until this is confirmed.