So what becomes of all the Darwinian casuistry around “fitness” and “costly fitness” if things can happen so simply as this?
The finding, reported today in Cell, is the first known example of a natural gene transfer from a plant to an insect. It also explains one reason why the whitefly Bemisia tabaci is so adept at munching on crops: the gene that it swiped from plants enables it to neutralize a toxin that some plants produce to defend against insects.
Early work suggests that inhibiting this gene can render the whiteflies vulnerable to the toxin, providing a potential route to combating the pest. “This exposes a mechanism through which we can tip the scales back in the plant’s favour,” says Andrew Gloss, who studies plant–pest interactions at the University of Chicago in Illinois. “It’s a remarkable example of how studying evolution can inform new approaches for applications like crop protection.”Heidi Ledford, “First known gene transfer from plant to insect identified” at Nature
The article emphasizes the benefits of studying “evolution.” Indeed, but that can’t mean fronting Darwinism 101 any more.
The paper is open access.
See also: Horizontal gene transfer: Sorry, Darwin, it’s not your evolution any more