Part of the show Dreams, Sleep, and The Body Clock
Scientists often give bacteria an electric shock in the lab in order to encourage them to take up extra pieces of DNA, called plasmids, which are used in genetic engineering experiments. But now, according to French researchers, lightning achieves the same feat. Timothy Vogel and Pascal Simonet, from Lyon, subjected common ground-dwelling bacteria to artificial lightning strikes. Any bacteria close to the site of the strike are obviously fried, but those further away receive a milder shock that encourages them to pick up pieces of DNA 'bait'. So far the experiments have worked with laboratory strains of E. coli, and another common bug called Pseudomonas. The researchers think that the process is widespread and helps bacteria to evolve by enabling them to scavenge pieces of DNA, containing foreign genes, from their surroundings. It may also have helped to kick-start the evolution of some of the first bacteria.