ScienceDaily (Nov. 15, 2012) — Up to 10 per cent of the active genes of an organism that has survived 80 million years without sex are foreign, a new study from the University of Cambridge and Imperial College London reveals. The asexual organism, the bdelloid rotifer, has acquired a tenth of its active genes from bacteria and other simple organisms like fungi and algae.
The findings were reported Nov. 15 in the journal PLoS Genetics.
Bdelloid rotifers are best known for going 80 million years without sex, as they have evolved to reproduce successfully without males. Many asexual creatures go extinct without the benefit of traditional genetic evolution. However, bdelloids have flourished by developing ingenious ways of overcoming the limitations of being asexual.
Bdelloids have also developed the fascinating ability to withstand almost complete desiccation when the freshwater pools they typically live in dry up. They can survive in the dry state for many years only to revive with no ill effect once water becomes available again.
"We were thrilled when we discovered that nearly 10 per cent of bdelloids' active genes are foreign, adding to the weirdness of an already odd little creature," said Professor Alan Tunnacliffe, lead author of the study from the University of Cambridge. "We don't know how the gene transfer occurs, but it almost certainly involves ingesting DNA in organic debris, which their environments are full of. Bdelloids will eat anything smaller than their heads!"