‘Stealing’ life’s building blocks

Friday, June 8, 2012 - 12:10 in Biology & Nature

In a finding that could fundamentally rewrite science’s understanding of how some parasite-host relationships work, Harvard researchers have found that, despite being separated by more than 100 million years of evolution, the parasitic “corpse flower” of Southeast Asian rain forests appears to share large parts of its genome with its hosts, members of the grapevine family. The two plants share the genome parts, researchers believe, through a process known as “horizontal gene transfer.” Horizontal transfer occurs when genes are passed between organisms without sexual reproduction, as opposed to vertical transfer, in which a parent passes genes to its offspring, As described in the June 6 issue of BMC Genomics, in a study co-led by Harvard and Stony Brook University, researchers found that this type of genetic sharing between plants is much more widespread than had been suspected, and that some genes borrowed by the flowers are likely functional, and may have replaced...

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