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Evolution crime: Grasses are “stealing” genes from neighbors, researchers tell us

Researchers have found that a species of grass known as Alloteropsis semialata can steal genes from...

Alloteropsis semialata/Marjorie Lundgren/(CC BY-SA 3.0)

For some reason, horizontal gene transfer is described as a way that they “cheat evolution”:

S ientists have found evidence that some species of grasses are stealing genes from their neighbors to help them adapt, effectively bypassing millions of years’ worth of evolution…

Did the plants have some kind of obligation to develop the genes themselves, assuming they even could?

Now researchers at the University of Sheffield have found that, surprisingly, some grasses are also running a “counterfeit genes” ring. The discovery was made by studying the genome of Alloteropsis semialata grass, and comparing it to the genomes of 150 other grass species. The similarity of certain DNA sequences showed that they had been acquired laterally from their natural neighbors.

Hoew are the genes “counterfeit?”

“Grasses are simply stealing genes and taking an evolutionary shortcut,” says Luke Dunning, an author of the study. “They are acting as a sponge, absorbing useful genetic information from their neighbors to out compete their relatives and survive in hostile habitats without putting in the millions of years it usually takes to evolve these adaptations.” Michael Irving, “Grasses found to cheat evolution by stealing genes from their neighbors” at New Atlas

So? Horizontal gene transfer isn’t even that uncommon, as the researchers admit. If this is how people who are used to explaining evolution in Darwinian terms react, maybe they should just stick to propounding Darwinism and leave the rest to people who take a broader and more balanced view.

One thing that’s clear is, they see it as a problem. 

See also: Jerry Coyne continues to be unhappy about David Quammen’s book on Carl Woese (which talks a lot about horizontal gene transfer)

At New York Times: Darwin Skeptic Carl Woese “Effectively Founded A New Branch Of Science”


Horizontal gene transfer: Sorry, Darwin, it’s not your evolution any more

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The fact that they chose morally-laden terminology says more about the feared impact on their careers than it does about how the grasses actually behave. EDTA

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