Parasitic dodder (genus Cuscuta) growing on a plant host. Mark S. Brunell
Gene exchange between different plant species is made possible by their parasites, according to an Indiana University Bloomington report in this week’s Nature.
IUB biologists’ discovery that genes can move from plant parasites to plant hosts complements a report by University of Michigan and Smithsonian Institution scientists in the July 30 issue of Science that showed the opposite -- that genes can move from plant hosts to plant parasites. Taken together, the findings establish plant parasitism as the first known medium for "horizontal gene transfer," the exchange of genes between individuals of different species.
"Plant parasitism has emerged as the first solid mechanism of horizontal transfer in plants," said IUB biologist Jeff Mower, the Nature report’s lead author. "Other mechanisms also are likely to be important but, as of yet, they remain in the realm of speculation."
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