Parasitic Plant Steals Genes
Recent research shows that the parasitic plant Rafflesia cantleyi has actually 'stolen' genes from Tetrastigma rafflesiae. The genes play a role in respiration and metabolism.
The stolen genes have actually replaced some of the parasite's own genes.
There are two ways that genes get transferred: vertical gene transfer is between parents and their offspring while horizontal gene transfer is between two different organisms.
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Bacteria utilize horizontal gene transfers to gain resistance to antibiotics. And now, it seems that parasitic plants might use horizontal gene transfers due to their intimate physical connection with the host.
Rafflesia cantleyi is a parasitic plant that depends soley on its host, a member of the grape family, for sustenance. Scientists found 49 genes that came from the host, with about 75 percent of them actually replacing the parasite's own genes.
"The elevated rate of horizontal gene transfer between T. rafflesiae and its parasite R. cantleyi raises the possibility that there is a 'fitness' benefit to the parasite. For example they may improve the parasites ability to extract nutrients from the host, or help it evade the host's defences, as has been seen for a bacterial pathogen of citrus trees," said Prof Charles Davis, from the Harvard University Herbaria, who co-led this project with Prof Joshua Rest from Stony Brook University.
"Furthermore it appears that about one third of the parasites own genes have evolved to be more like those of T. rafflesia. Finding out how T. rafflesia manages its genomic deception will provide us with real insights into the slow war between plant parasites and their hosts."