Like the human being, the bacteria that are part of the intestine also need vitamin B12 to function.
Now new research shows that these gut bacteria transfer genes through sex to share their vitamins.
This occurs mainly with vitamin B12, without which most living cells could not function.
Work by researchers at the University of California, Riverside shows that beneficial gut microbes share the ability to acquire this important resource from each other through a process known as “bacterial sex.”
“The process is that a cell forms a tube through which DNA can pass to another cell. It is as if two humans had sex and now they are both redheaded”, explains Patrick Degnan, lead author of this study.
Researchers have known about this process for decades, as well as the ability to transfer “jumping genes” between different organisms.
According to them, most of the examples that have been studied have been responsible for helping bacterial cells stay alive when antibiotics are ingested.
“We are excited about this study because it shows that this process is not just for antibiotic resistance. Horizontal gene sharing between microbes is likely to be used for anything that increases their ability to survive, including sharing vitamin B12,” adds Degnan.
The results of this research have been published in the journal Cell reports.