Scientists have long thought gene exchange between individuals of unrelated species to be an extremely rare event among eukaryotes -- the massive group of organisms that counts among its members humans, oak trees, kelp and mushrooms -- throughout the groups 2 billion year history.
But a new Indiana University Bloomington study in this weeks Nature suggests that such genetic events, called horizontal gene transfers, have happened more often than previously thought during the evolution of flowering plants. The finding hints other eukaryotes have had significant genetic influence from completely unrelated species.
"It appears horizontal gene transfer occurs for just about any gene in the plant mitochondrial genome," said biologist and Class of 1955 Endowed Professor Jeffrey Palmer, who led the research. "There is no reason to believe that this finding would apply only to plants. We already know from past studies that other eukaryotes experience the same mechanisms of horizontal transfer for certain special pieces of DNA called transposable elements. Our results now extend this phenomenon to the thousands of ordinary genes in a genome."
David Bricker | EurekAlert!
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