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Splicing a 500-Million-Year-Old Gene Into Modern Bacteria

We are still waiting with bated breath for the day scientists resurrect the woolly mammoth. Until then, we'll have to satisfy ourselves with resurrections of ancient plants and bacteria - which may be more amazing anyway, because they're even older. The dish in the above image holds a bacterium with a 500 million-year-old gene in it. That's an era just a little while after the Cambrian explosion, when life became complex.

This story starts back in 2008, when Georgia Tech researchers figured out the ancient sequence of a gene called Elongation Factor-Tu (EF-Tu), which is found in all cellular life. Bacteria need it to survive, so its ancient version presents an interesting window into genetic evolution. Betül Kaçar, a astrobiology postdoctoral fellow in Georgia Tech's NASA Center for Ribosomal Origins and Evolution, figured out where this ancient gene would go on modern E. coli chromosomes and in which sequence. Then Kaçar produced eight identical strains of E. coli with this old gene.

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