Genomic-scale exchange of mRNA between a parasitic plant and its hosts

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Science  15 Aug 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6198, pp. 808-811
DOI: 10.1126/science.1253122

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Strangleweed shares too much information

Because RNA normally functions within an individual cell, we generally think that we keep our RNAs to ourselves. Kim et al. now show that the parasitic dodder plant breaks that rule. When dodder attacks a host plant, it opens up a conduit through which messenger and perhaps other regulatory RNAs are exchanged between parasite and host. Because a single dodder plant can attack multiple hosts, such exchanges may underlie instances of genes transferring between species.

Science, this issue p. 808


Movement of RNAs between cells of a single plant is well documented, but cross-species RNA transfer is largely unexplored. Cuscuta pentagona (dodder) is a parasitic plant that forms symplastic connections with its hosts and takes up host messenger RNAs (mRNAs). We sequenced transcriptomes of Cuscuta growing on Arabidopsis and tomato hosts to characterize mRNA transfer between species and found that mRNAs move in high numbers and in a bidirectional manner. The mobile transcripts represented thousands of different genes, and nearly half the expressed transcriptome of Arabidopsis was identified in Cuscuta. These findings demonstrate that parasitic plants can exchange large proportions of their transcriptomes with hosts, providing potential mechanisms for RNA-based interactions between species and horizontal gene transfer.

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