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The process of transfer in bacteria


How bacteria transfer genetic material
John Maynard Smith Scientist
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Bacterial cells don't fuse, I mean, they don't go into sex as we do, but there are a variety of ways in which genetic material from one bacterium can be transferred to another. Either quite small pieces, of a few hundreds or a few thousand nucleotides, up to a whole group of genes going across. And some of these processes are rather common, some only happen rather rarely. But the general notion that genes are moving about in bacteria, even across quite wide taxonomic boundaries, they don't even have to be closely related bacteria for this to happen always. The bacteria... I picture another analogy, I picture a bacterium like E. coli, a little like a football team, every now and then they need a new goalkeeper or a new striker or something, and they can sort of buy one in by these various processes of horizontal transfer.

[Q] Not even from other E. coli, but from quite different bacteria?

Maybe from other E. coli, but sometimes from quite different bacteria.

The late British biologist John Maynard Smith (1920-2004) is famous for applying game theory to the study of natural selection. At Eton College, inspired by the work of old Etonian JBS Haldane, Maynard Smith developed an interest in Darwinian evolutionary theory and mathematics. Then he entered University College London (UCL) to study fruit fly genetics under Haldane. In 1973 Maynard Smith formalised a central concept in game theory called the evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS). His ideas, presented in books such as 'Evolution and the Theory of Games', were enormously influential and led to a more rigorous scientific analysis and understanding of interactions between living things.

Listeners: Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins was educated at Oxford University and has taught zoology at the universities of California and Oxford. He is a fellow of New College, Oxford and the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. Dawkins is one of the leading thinkers in modern evolutionary biology. He is also one of the best read and most popular writers on the subject: his books about evolution and science include "The Selfish Gene", "The Extended Phenotype", "The Blind Watchmaker", "River Out of Eden", "Climbing Mount Improbable", and most recently, "Unweaving the Rainbow".

Tags: E. coli

Duration: 1 minute, 4 seconds

Date story recorded: April 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008