Mineral facilitated horizontal gene transfer - a new principle for the evolution of life

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Karina Krarup Sand


University of Copenhagen


DKK 4,974,280




Semper Ardens: Accelerate


When we think of evolution of life, we tend to think of it as following sexual reproduction and cell division. However, horizontal gene transfer events where genes are transferred to unrelated species is a common evolutionary mechanism. We know that DNA can adsorb to mineral surfaces where it can be stabilized across time and space. Interestingly, bacteria have been shown to take up mineral adsorbed DNA and incorporate the DNA into their genome. This mean that minerals could act as shuttles transferring adaptive traits from one environment to others through sedimentary processes. With this project I aim to test if dispersal of DNA adsorbed to sedimentary particles hold a potential to influence the evolution of life.


Introducing a new principle for the evolution of life is of fundamental importance. If minerals hold a potential to transfer DNA across time and space and act as hotspots for gene transfers, it will have a ground-breaking impact on how we understand and study the evolution of life. Forging the studies of mineralogy, geology and evolutionary biology in a multidisciplinary effort will open for new views of evolutionary processes and pathways and advance our understanding of evolutionary mechanisms.


My research question requires an interdisciplinary approach and will involve nano-level investigations of DNA-mineral associations, studies of genetic uptake rates into bacteria, and setting up field studies to monitor gene flow. The aim is to combine nano-level dynamics with bulk scale adsorption data and microbial uptake rate values to understand the parameters determining the success of mineral facilitated horizontal gene transfer. When we know which conditions are opportune, we will initiate field scale studies where we will monitor gene dispersal pathways and site evolution over time.

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