Treatments for a range of diseases and disorders are expected in the wake of a major breakthrough by Irish scientists.
Researchers from Trinity College Dublin have discovered that a single gene mutation in a single species had a ripple effect in an entire biological community.
Using bacteria to replicate ecological systems in the laboratory, they found small chemical changes in one individual species could trigger dramatic changes in whole biological communities.
The ‘social mutants’ interacted in different ways with other species, many of which cause significant health problems in people.
Scientists found that the changes were as important as the extinction of a top predator.
The extinction of a predator changes how ecosystems are structured as they control the numbers and diversity of all other species in the food chain.
Lead author of the three-year study and PhD researcher in zoology at TCD, Deirdre McClean, said the findings would have implications for disease researchers and drug developers as well as ecologists and geneticists.
“Aside from the big picture message, developing our understanding of the effects of bacteria behaviour on community composition might prove critical in the development of treatments aimed at manipulating our gut microbiota, for example,” said Ms McClean.
Assistant professor in zoology at TCD, Dr Ian Donohue, said the results of the study suggested that micro-evolution might be an important factor in shaping the response of biological communities to environmental change.
“The results of this study suggest that micro-evolution may be an important, but currently overlooked, factor shaping the response of communities to environmental change,” he said.
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