Whether occurrence of life at the physicochemical extremes results from the entire adaptation of organisms to such settings or it originates from the action of a few genes has been debated for a long time. Recent evidence suggests that a limited number of functions suffice to change the predilection of microorganisms for radically different environmental scenarios. For instance, expression of a few genes from cold-loving bacteria in mesophilic hosts allows them to grow at much lower temperatures and become heat-sensitive. This has been exploited not only for constructing Escherichia coli strains able to grow at 5-10 °C (and thus optimised as hosts for heterologous gene expression) but also for designing vaccines based on temperature-sensitive pathogens. Occurrence of genes/functions that reframe the windows of viability may also ask for a revision of some concepts in microbial ecology and may provide new tools for engineering bacteria with a superior biotechnological performance.
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