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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Man/Woman Of The Year: The Fern !

End of the year cable news nonsense: lists of the best, the worst, the most beautiful, the ugliest, those who have passed on, and the man/woman of the year.
In all of this, I never heard of this bit of business, which sort of took my breath away when I came across it this morning.

Ferns borrowed genes to flourish in low light
Apr 14, 2014

During the age of the dinosaurs, the arrival of flowering plants as competitors could have spelled doom for the ancient fern lineage. Instead, ferns diversified and flourished under the new canopy—using a mysterious gene that helped them adapt to low-light environments.

A team led by Duke University scientists has pinpointed the curious origins of this gene and determined that it was transferred to ferns from a group of unassuming moss-like plants called hornworts. The findings were announced today, April 14, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Three scenarios could have explained how the gene came to be shared by ferns and hornworts: 1) a common ancestor that had the gene; 2) independent evolution of the gene in both groups; or 3) a process called horizontal gene transfer, which ferried neochrome from one group to the other.

To sort out these theories, the team looked not only at the evolutionary relationships of land plants and algae, but also at how all of their light-sensitive genes were related.

Ferns and hornworts diverged in evolution 400 million years ago. If neochrome came from a common ancestor, it would have been passed on to many other plant families, too. But then it had to have been lost in all but the ferns, since no seed plants still have it. The analysis also didn't support the idea that an unusual gene like neochrome evolved independently in both hornworts and ferns.

What the scientists found instead was strong evidence that the fern version of neochrome descended from the hornwort version. By looking at sequence changes in the gene's various spellings, they constructed a family tree of light-sensitive genes, in which fern neochrome "nested" neatly within the hornwort lineage. The analysis also showed that the gene versions separated about 179 million years ago.

Only one mechanism could explain how the gene hopped from hornworts to ferns so long after the lineages themselves diverged: horizontal gene transfer. But researchers have only just begun to explore how this occurs in plants.

"We're actually seeing more and more incidence of horizontal gene transfer in plants, but there's no definite answer as to what mediates it," Li said...

and horizontal transfer is not your usual reproduction and Darwinian natural selection. It is more like handing your sick pal a bag full of the genes that prevented your lactose intolerance,  and a week later finding him smiling and eating a wheel of cheddar!



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