U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights

Genomic Analysis Provides New Clues on the Origins of Metabolic Pathways in Earth’s Biosphere
Published: January 18, 2011
Posted: January 26, 2011

For the first three billion years of life’s history on Earth, microbes were the original and predominant form of life, but evolution during this period remains a mystery due to the lack of significant fossil evidence. Analysis of microbial gene sequences across the tree of life has yielded clues on the development of fundamental biological processes; however, horizontal gene transfer (HGT), the exchange of genetic material across species, has confounded efforts to map out deep evolutionary processes operating over geological time periods. In new results published in the January 6th issue of Nature, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology describe a new comparative genomics approach for analyzing molecular evolution while accounting for HGT. The authors identified a period of rapid gene innovation between 3.3 and 2.8 billion years ago that gave rise to 27% of modern gene families. This evolutionary burst coincided with a period when oxygen concentrations in the atmosphere rapidly increased. The genes originating during this period include many involved in expanded energy production and metabolic reactions associated with an oxidizing environment. These results shed new light on fundamental processes that have shaped the metabolic potential of life on Earth and that continue to govern adaptation of the biosphere to changing conditions. This research was funded as part of a DOE Science Focus Area at Lawrence Berkeley Lab.

Reference: David, L. A., and E. J. Alm. 2011. “Rapid Evolutionary Innovation During an Archaean Genetic Expansion,” Nature 469, 93–96.

Contact: Joseph Graber, SC-23.2, (301) 903-1239
Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Genomic Analysis and Systems Biology
  • Research Area: Microbes and Communities

Division: SC-23.2 Biological Systems Science Division, BER


BER supports basic research and scientific user facilities to advance DOE missions in energy and environment. More about BER

Recent Highlights

Aug 24, 2019
New Approach for Studying How Microbes Influence Their Environment
A diverse group of scientists suggests a common framework and targeting of known microbial processes [more...]

Aug 08, 2019
Nutrient-Hungry Peatland Microbes Reduce Carbon Loss Under Warmer Conditions
Enzyme production in peatlands reduces carbon lost to respiration under future high temperatures. [more...]

Aug 05, 2019
Amazon Forest Response to CO2 Fertilization Dependent on Plant Phosphorus Acquisition
AmazonFACE Model Intercomparison. The Science Plant growth is dependent on the availabi [more...]

Jul 29, 2019
A Slippery Slope: Soil Carbon Destabilization
Carbon gain or loss depends on the balance between competing biological, chemical, and physical reac [more...]

Jul 15, 2019
Field Evaluation of Gas Analyzers for Measuring Ecosystem Fluxes
How gas analyzer type and correction method impact measured fluxes. The Science A side- [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)