Bacteria `evolved way to safeguard crucial genetic material`

London: Scientists claim that bacteria have evolved a mechanism that protects important genes from random mutation, effectively reducing self-destruction risk.

The findings by a team at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory`s European Bioinformatics Institute answer a question that has been under debate for half a century and provide insights into how disease-causing mutations arise and pathogens evolve, the `Nature` journal reported.

"We discovered that there must be a molecular mechanism that preferentially protects certain areas of the genome over others," said team leader Nicholas Luscombe.

He added: "If we can identify the proteins involved and uncover how this works, we`ll be even closer to understanding how mutations that lead to diseases like cancer can be prevented."

For their study, the researchers analysed 120,000 tiny genetic mutations called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in 34 strains of the bacterium E. Coli, the scientists were able to quantify how random the mutation rate was in different areas of the bacterial genomes.

Their results showed that key genes mutate at a much lower rate than the rest of the genetic material, which decreases the risk of such genes suffering a detrimental mutation.

"We were struck by how variable the mutation rate appears to be along the genome. Our observations suggest these bacteria have evolved a clever mechanism to control the rate of evolution in crucial areas of the genome," the researchers said.