Many plant-feeding insects need microbial enzymes, such as pectinases, that degrade plant cell walls; yet some insects have overcome this dependency in a surprising way. Now researchers found that stick insects make microbial enzymes themselves. From an ancestral gut microbe, the genes for the essential enzymes simply ‘jumped’ as they are to their insect host.
“Jumped”? “As they are?”
Who predicted that?
Beyond enzymes, horizontal gene transfer can provide any number of new abilities, and our microbiome provides an immense source of potential species-altering proteins. “The idea that genes from microbes living in our guts can suddenly become part of our genomes and change the course of our evolutionary history, that’s an incredible finding,” Shelomi concludes. Paper. (public access) – Matan Shelomi, Etienne G. J. Danchin, David Heckel, Benjamin Wipfler, Sven Bradler, Xin Zhou, Yannick Pauchet. Horizontal Gene Transfer of Pectinases from Bacteria Preceded the Diversification of Stick and Leaf Insects. Scientific Reports, 2016; 6: 26388 DOI: 10.1038/srep26388 More.
Not only are such findings “incredible” but they change what we think “evolution” even is.
No wonder some at the Royal Society are rethinking evolution. They had better.
Eventually, the public will come to know of this and wonder why we were stuck so long with the Darwin-in-the-schools! lobby’s version.
See also: Horizontal gene transfer: Mapping antibiotic resistance
Horizontal gene transfer: Sorry, Darwin, it’s not your evolution any more
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