How our plants have become thieves to survive

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Scientists have discovered that grasses are able to reduce evolution by capturing the genes of their neighbors. The results suggest that wild grasses change naturally genetically to gain a competitive advantage.

Understanding how this happens could also help scientists reduce the risk of genes escaping from genetically modified crops and creating what are known as "super-weeds", which can occur when Genetically engineered genes are transferred to local wild plants, making them resistant to herbicides.

Since Darwin, the theory of evolution relies heavily on a common ancestry, in which natural selection acts on genes passed from parent to offspring. However, researchers at Sheffield University's Department of Animal and Plant Sciences have discovered that grasses break these rules. Lateral gene transfer allows organisms to bypass evolution and come to the fore by using genes that they acquire from species close to each other.

"Herbs are simply stealing genes and taking an evolutionary shortcut," said Dr. Luke Dunning.

"They act like a sponge, absorbing useful genetic information from their neighbors to compete with their loved ones and survive in hostile habitats without devoting millions of years to developing these adaptations."

Scientists have been looking at grasses – some of the world's most economically and ecologically important plants, including many of the world's most cultivated crops, such as: wheat, corn, rice, rice Barley, sorghum and sugar cane.

The paper, published in the newspaper Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, explains how scientists sequenced and assembled the genome of the herb Alloteropsis semialata.

Study the genome of the grass Alloteropsis semialata – found in Africa, Asia and Australia – researchers were able to compare it to about 150 other grasses (including rice, maize, millet, barley, bamboo, etc.). They identified genes in Alloteropsis semialata acquired laterally by comparing the similarity of the DNA sequences constituting the genes.

"We also collected samples of Alloteropsis semialata tropical and subtropical areas of Asia, Africa and Australia to determine where and when the transfers took place, "said Dr Dunning.

"Gene counterfeiting gives grasses enormous benefits and allows them to adapt to their environment and survive. This study also shows that this is not limited to: Alloteropsis semialata as we have detected in a wide range of other species of grasses

"This research could lead us, as a society, to revisit our vision of genetically modified plant technology, as herbs have naturally exploited a similar process.

"Ultimately, this research could also help us understand how genes can escape genetically engineered crops to wild or other non-GM crops, and suggest ways to reduce the risk of this." happen."

"The next step is to understand the biological mechanism behind this phenomenon and we will carry out further studies to answer it."

Explore further:
Scientists take one step closer to understanding species distribution in the face of climate change

More information:
Luke T. Dunning et al., "Lateral Transfers of Large DNA Fragments Spread Functional Genes Among Herbs," PNAS (2019).

Journal reference:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Provided by:
University of Sheffield

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