September 8, 2014

In one of nature's innovations, a single cell smashes and rebuilds its own genome

Life can be so intricate and novel that even a single cell can pack a few surprises, according to a study led by Princeton University researchers.

The pond-dwelling, single-celled organism Oxytricha trifallax has the remarkable ability to break its own DNA into nearly a quarter-million pieces and rapidly reassemble those pieces when it's time to mate, the researchers report in the journal Cell. The organism internally stores its genome as thousands of scrambled, encrypted gene pieces. Upon mating with another of its kind, the organism rummages through these jumbled genes and DNA segments to piece together more than 225,000 tiny strands of DNA. This all happens in about 60 hours.