Scientists document natural transfer of DNA between insects and trees

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Very few cases of natural DNA transfers between animals and plants are documented, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientist, but recently his team did just that.

The research team found a group of DNA sequences in pine trees, spruces and other conifers had been transferred to an ancestor of those trees from insects about 340 million years ago, said Dr. Claudio Casola, an AgriLife Research forest genomics assistant professor in the Texas A&M University ecosystem science and management department in College Station.

. . . .

Their work, “An Ancient Trans-Kingdom Horizontal Transfer of Penelope-like Retroelements from Arthropods to Conifers,” was published recently in the Genome Biology and Evolution journal.

“We called these conifer DNA sequences ‘Dryads’ after the Greek mythological nymphs that inhabit trees,” Casola said. “Dryads are one of the many groups of DNA sequences known as DNA repeats.”

He said DNA repeats, also known as transposable elements, are particularly good at making new copies of themselves. . . .

“We know from studies in other plants that transposable elements affect both the activity and the structure of genes, and ultimately have a role in shaping certain traits, from the color of some grape varieties to the oval shape of some tomatoes.”

. . . .

“You can think of transposable elements as ‘genomic parasites,'” Casola explained. “They spread into new genomes kind of like viruses spread between people. Unlike flu and other viral disease, these ‘genomic infections’ occur rarely, but once established, they can persist for millions of years.”

Read full, original post: Scientists document rare DNA transfer between animals and plants

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