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Bioessays. 2011 Jan;33(1):38-42. doi: 10.1002/bies.201000101.

Genes that move the window of viability of life: lessons from bacteria thriving at the cold extreme: mesophiles can be turned into extremophiles by substituting essential genes.

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Systems and Synthetic Biology Program, Centro Nacional de Biotecnología CSIC Cantoblanco, Madrid, Spain.


Whether occurrence of life at the physicochemical extremes results from the entire adaptation of organisms to such settings or it originates from the action of a few genes has been debated for a long time. Recent evidence suggests that a limited number of functions suffice to change the predilection of microorganisms for radically different environmental scenarios. For instance, expression of a few genes from cold-loving bacteria in mesophilic hosts allows them to grow at much lower temperatures and become heat-sensitive. This has been exploited not only for constructing Escherichia coli strains able to grow at 5-10 °C (and thus optimised as hosts for heterologous gene expression) but also for designing vaccines based on temperature-sensitive pathogens. Occurrence of genes/functions that reframe the windows of viability may also ask for a revision of some concepts in microbial ecology and may provide new tools for engineering bacteria with a superior biotechnological performance.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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