WTF Fun Fact 13645 – Electric Eels & Electroporation

Researchers at Nagoya University in Japan have found that electric eels, known for their ability to generate powerful electric shocks, can influence the genetic makeup of nearby organisms. This study sheds new light on the process of electroporation – a technique typically associated with laboratory settings.

Electroporation involves using an electric field to create temporary openings in cell membranes. This process allows molecules like DNA or proteins to enter cells. The research team hypothesized that the electric eels’ discharge could naturally induce this process in the environment.

Electric Eels – From Laboratory to Riverbanks

The team’s experiment involved exposing young fish larvae to a DNA solution marked with a glowing indicator. They then introduced an electric eel, which discharged electricity as it bit a feeder. The results were remarkable: about 5% of the larvae showed evidence of successful gene transfer.

“I always believed that electroporation might occur in nature,” says Assistant Professor Iida. “The electric eels in the Amazon could be natural power sources, causing genetic modifications in other organisms through environmental DNA and electric discharge.”

This discovery challenges the conventional understanding of electroporation as solely a man-made process. It opens up exciting possibilities for further exploration of electric fields’ natural impacts on living organisms.

Other studies have noted similar natural phenomena, where environmental electric fields like lightning can affect organisms such as nematodes and soil bacteria. This insight into electric eels’ role in gene transfer adds a new dimension to our understanding of natural genetic processes.

Professor Iida is enthusiastic about the future of this research area. “The natural world holds complexities that our current knowledge may not fully grasp. Discovering new biological phenomena based on unconventional ideas can lead to groundbreaking advancements in science,” he asserts.

Nature’s Electrifying Influence on Genetics

The Nagoya University study not only expands our understanding of electroporation but also highlights nature’s ingenious methods of genetic transfer.

Electric eels now emerge as potential agents of natural gene editing. This research paves the way for a deeper understanding of how electric fields, both man-made and natural, can influence life on Earth.

The findings from Nagoya University provide a striking example of how nature can mirror processes usually confined to controlled laboratory settings. The ability of electric eels to induce genetic changes in their environment opens up new avenues for understanding and potentially harnessing natural processes for scientific and medical breakthroughs.

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Source: “‘Shocking’ discovery: Electricity from electric eels may transfer genetic material to nearby animals” — ScienceDaily