A tantalizing article on how the gene that encodes the 16S molecule (which I’ve never heard of till now) provides important, subtle insights into how organisms evolve. There’s only one catch …. (see below).

When trying to determine the identity of the bacteria that reside in a given environment, such as the human gut, researchers often look for differences in the gene encoding the 16S molecule, which is necessary for bacterial reproduction.

“All bacteria have the 16S gene”, said Stefan Janssen, postdoc in the laboratory of CMI director and UC San Diego professor of pediatrics and computer science and engineering Rob Knight. “If they didn’t, they couldn’t reproduce. We can tell who’s who by looking at the nucleotide sequence of this gene.”

Why is understanding the evolutionary history of organisms important? It’s the foundation for innovation, says Janssen. But there’s a problem with trying to construct the evolutionary history of an organism, or a group of organisms, from scratch using 16S sequences: it’s often wrong.