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Scientists have discovered a way by which genes from one species can jump directly into another species — nature’s way of creating genetically modified organisms.
The finding is relevant to the debate over genetically modified foods. Opponents have frequently maintained that an interspecies gene transfer done in a laboratory — the insertion of a bacterial gene into corn to make it insect-resistant, for example — would never occur naturally and is therefore unethical and potentially unsafe.
The new study, published in the journal PLOS Genetics, undermines that argument.
“You realize that nature is creating genetically modified organisms all the time,” said Salvador Herrero, a geneticist at the University of Valencia, Spain, and co-author of the study. “It’s not so weird to transfer genes from one organism to another.”
A few months ago, a team of U.K. researchers concluded that the “jumping gene” method enabled humans to acquire more than 145 foreign genes from bacteria, viruses and fungi over the course of our evolution.
The big mystery is: How does this happen? In the latest study, researchers suggest a possible route whereby the genes of parasitic wasps jump into the genomes of butterflies and moths.
When braconid wasps lay their eggs inside caterpillars, they also inject a virus from their bodies to incapacitate the caterpillar’s natural immune response. This allows the wasp larvae to feed on the caterpillar unhindered. In the process, genes that belong to the wasp and are harbored by the virus also end up in the caterpillar host.
Read full, original post: Scientists Learn How Genes Can Jump Between Species