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Whitefly steals genes from plants; perhaps to detoxify plant defenses


The horizontal gene transfer was far more extensive than expected:

A major crop pest has 50 genes that appear to originate from plants, and it might use them to detoxify plants’ chemical defences

Whiteflies appear to have taken the saying “you are what you eat” somewhat literally. New research suggests the tiny, herbivorous insects have incorporated dozens of genes from plants into their own genome.

Jake Buehler, “Whiteflies have acquired dozens of genes from plants they eat” at New Scientist (January 27, 2022) (paywall)

Some think that at least one gene got transferred between 35 and 80 million years ago:

Tens of millions of years ago, a tiny, milky-white bug known as a whitefly snatched a gene from its host, an ancient plant. Dubbed BtPMaT1, the gene renders a common plant toxin harmless — allowing the pesky insect to become one of today’s most insidious agricultural pests.

The discovery of BtPMaT1 in whiteflies marks the first time scientists have identified a gene that’s crossed from a plant to an animal, researchers from China and Europe reported in Cell last March. Horizontal gene transfer, or HGT, occurs when a gene moves from one species into another. It’s common between many species of bacteria, and even occurs between bacteria and plants, or bacteria and animals. Finding a gene from a plant inside an insect, though, was unprecedented.

Nathaniel Scharping, “This Insect Stole a Protective Gene from Ancient Plants” at Discover Magazine (Jan 13, 2022)

Fasten yer seatbelts. It could turn out to be common.

Here’s a thought: If horizontal gene transfer turns out to be widespread, it will confound carefully worked out Darwinian claims about how “evolution” did this and that via natural selection acting on random mutation. With the whitefly, things didn’t happen that way at all.

You may also wish to read: Horizontal gene transfer: Sorry, Darwin, it’s not your evolution any more


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