YOKOHAMA, Japan, May 27 (UPI) — Japanese scientists say they’ve discovered the first evidence of nuclear genetic transfer from a host to a parasite plant species.
Researchers at the Riken Plant Science Center in Yokohama said their discovery suggests a greater role for horizontal gene transfer in plant evolution.
The scientists said the transfer of genetic material between non-mating species, known as horizontal gene transfer, is viewed as a powerful mechanism for genetic evolution. While common in bacteria, such genetic transfer is less well understood in plants, with evidence largely confined to its role in the transfer of mitochondrial genes, the scientists said.
The research team wanted to determine whether such horizontal gene transfer occurs between parasite and host plant species, where implications for evolution would be particularly profound. Using large-scale gene analysis, they said they combed 17,000 genes of the parasite witchweed Striga hermonthica — a source of devastating damage to sorghum and rice crops in Africa — for traces of transfer from host species.
They said they discovered one gene, ShContig9483, exhibited a high similarity to genes in sorghum and rice, yet no relation to genes from Striga hermonthica’s own family of flowering plants (eudicots). The team then traced ShContig9483′s origins to sorghum genes, strongly suggesting recent horizontal transfer from host to parasite.
The research is detailed in the journal Science.
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