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We have been accidentally genetically engineering plants – and eating GMOs – for millennia.
That is the implication of a series of studies showing the ancient practice of grafting can allow even distantly related plants to swap all three kinds of genomes they possess.
Grafting involves transplanting part of one plant onto another so they fuse and continue to grow.
Farmers [graft plants] to combine, say, a tree that bears delicious fruit with one that has disease-resistant roots. Grafting also occurs naturally, when branches press together.
Bock’s 2009 study showed that cells on either side of a graft could exchange chloroplasts – organelles that carry out photosynthesis and have their own small genome.
Then, in 2014, another study found that the entire nucleus of a cell, containing the main genome, could be transferred across grafts. The transferred nucleus can be added to an existing cell nucleus – fusing the two genomes and potentially creating a new species.
Now a team led by Pal Maliga of Rutgers University . . .has shown that cells also swap mitochondria – energy-generating organelles with a small genome of their own – across grafts.
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Because grafting has been widely used for millennia, it is highly likely that some of the plants we eat were created by this kind of unintentional genetic engineering by farmers, Maliga and Bock think.
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Bock points out that many crop plants have more than two sets of chromosomes. Such polyploidy, as it is called, is usually attributed to genome duplication, but some cases could be evidence of genome exchange in grafted plants.
Read full, original post: Farmers may have been accidentally making GMOs for millennia