Scientists at the John Innes Centre (JIC) in the Norwich, UK have discovered that Euglena gracilis, the single-cell algae that inhabits most garden ponds, has a whole host of newly identified, unclassified genes that can make new forms of carbohydrates and natural products. Even with the latest technologies, sequencing all the DNA in Euglena remains a complex and laborious undertaking. Dr. Ellis O’Neill and Professor Rob Field from the JIC in Norwich, UK, together with colleagues, have therefore sequenced the transcriptome of Euglena gracilis, which provides information about all of the genes that the organism is actively using to make proteins. From this analysis of its protein-coding mRNA molecules, Professor Field and his team projected that Euglena has at least 32,000 active, protein-coding genes, significantly more than humans, who have approximately 21,000 such genes. The researchers discovered that Euglena has the genetic information to make many different natural compounds; we simply don’t yet know what they are or what they can do. Nearly 60% of the active genes don’t match those found in any other organism studied to date, suggesting that there is much to learn about the biology of Euglena. The new research was published online on August 13, 2015 in Molecular BioSystems. The article is titled “The Transcriptome of Euglena gracilis Reveals Unexpected Metabolic Capabilities for Carbohydrate and Natural Product Biochemistry.” The team also found that different sets of genes become active when Euglena is grown in the dark as opposed to when it is grown in the light. This indicates that Euglena can dramatically shift its metabolism depending on its environment, which reflects its ability to live successfully in many highly varied environments.
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