ECOLOGY/EVOLUTION

Geography of Gene Swapping

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Science  14 Oct 2005:
Vol. 310, Issue 5746, pp. 197
DOI: 10.1126/science.310.5746.197c

Horizontal gene transfer between unrelated species has not been uncommon in the course of biological evolution. Recently discovered examples have included the transfer of mitochondrial genes from parasitic flowering plants to their flowering plant hosts, and vice versa. Davis et al. now document horizontal gene transfer between more distantly related plants: Part of the mitochondrial genome of the rattlesnake fern, Botrychium virginianum, appears to be derived from sequences characteristic of mitochondria of the parasitic sandalwoods and mistletoes. The angiosperm sequences are present across the entire Northern Hemisphere range of the rattlesnake fern but are absent from any of its close relatives. These and other biogeographic and life-history data suggest that the horizontal gene transfer occurred quite recently in the ancestry of B. virginianum and was followed by rapid expansion to its current wide distribution. How this transfer occurred remains speculative—plausible mechanisms include direct transfer from a now-extinct parasite to an ancestor of the fern, or indirect transfer via mycorrhizal fungi. — AMS

Proc R. Soc. London Ser. B 10.1098/rspb.2005.3226 (2005).

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