posted on Sep, 1 2014 @ 11:12 AM
Much research over the past decade or so shows that prions do not just cause diseases like Mad Cow, Alzheimer's, arthritis and diabetes, but often
play a key role in evolution too. In short, prions are part of the epigenetic system - existing "above" the genetic code - and able to respond
rapidly to environmental change without altering DNA.
Seriously cool, prions are proteins - chemically the same as the ones coded-for by DNA, but folded differently. Form equals function in proteins, so
differently folded proteins do different things - even when the proteins' amino acids are the same.
This study shows that certain bacteria jump-start prion replication in yeast cells' membranes during the wine-making process. The yeast cells that
are supposed to be fermenting the wine stop doing it, and start creating food for the bacteria instead. Then, the yeast's epigenetic code overrides
its genetic code to continue creating prions, and this process is inherited by each subsequent yeast generation - triggering 'stuck' wine
fermentations, and spoiling the wine.
Most important, the researchers show that this prion inheritance is reversible. Knowing this, wine-makers now are better able to avoid the problem of
'stuck' wine fermentations.
"This type of prion-based inheritance is useful to organisms when they need to adapt to environmental conditions but not necessarily permanently,"
Bisson said. "In this case, the
heritable changes triggered by the prions enable the yeast to also change back to their initial mode of operation if environmental conditions should
NOTE to mods: The "old" Fragile Earth had a lot more biology so I put this here - but if it's in the wrong place, please move. Thanks, sofi