“Foreign” genes naturally jump between species, clouding anti-GMO criticism

In the paste of Roquefort and on the surface of Camembert, the microscopic filamentous fungi Penicillium roqueforti and Penicillium camembertii are responsible for the formation of a greenish-blue mould in the former case and a so-called “bloom” in the latter. Sequencing of the genomes of these two fungi, performed by research scientists from INRA, the Natural History Museum (MNHN), CNRS, Université d’Orsay and the company Genomic Vision, has recently, and surprisingly, shown that these genomes contain more than 250 strictly identical genes, thus indicating a natural transfer of genes between these two species. This type of event, until now little described in eukaryotes, may therefore be much more common than previously thought. The finding is a challenge to ant-GMO critics who base their criticism on GMOs on the claim that genetically engineering is “unnatural” because it can sometimes involve shuffling “foreign” genes between species.

The fermented foods that have developed over successive millennia have produced very rich and specific food environments that have led to strong selection pressures on the micro-organisms involved, these having adapted rapidly to these new environments. This is the case for bacteria (the prokaryote1 micro-organisms classically involved in fermentation), and also for microscopic fungi such as Saccharomyces yeasts (used to make bread, beer or wine), Aspergillus filamentous fungi (Asiatic fermented foods) and Penicillium, used to manufacture cheeses and smoked and fermented meats.

Read the full, original story: Between Roquefort and Camembert: Multiple recent gene transfers

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