horizontal gene transfer News

Animal steals plant parts; turns out to have tool kit for fixing them

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Animal steals plant genes. Serves it right that it ends up looking like plant./Patrick Klug

Here. Amazing what sheer randomness can do.

It has been known since the 1970s that E. chloritica “steals” chloroplasts from V. litorea (called “kleptoplasty”) and embeds them into its own digestive cells. Once inside the slug cells, the chloroplasts continue to photosynthesize for up to nine months–much longer than they would perform in the algae. The photosynthesis process produces carbohydrates and lipids, which nourish the slug.

How the slug manages to maintain these photosynthesizing organelles for so long has been the topic of intensive study and a good deal of controversy. “This paper confirms that one of several algal genes needed to repair damage to chloroplasts, and keep them functioning, is present on the slug chromosome,” Pierce says. “The gene is incorporated into the slug chromosome and transmitted to the next generation of slugs.” While the next generation must take up chloroplasts anew from algae, the genes to maintain the chloroplasts are already present in the slug genome, Pierce says.

“There is no way on earth that genes from an alga should work inside an animal cell,” Pierce says. “And yet here, they do. They allow the animal to rely on sunshine for its nutrition. So if something happens to their food source, they have a way of not starving to death until they find more algae to eat. “

Maybe the Darwin lobby can get an injunction in some U.S. court against the slugs for violating the law that Darwinian natural selection acting on random mutations is responsible for creating all or most changes in life forms.

6 Replies to “Animal steals plant parts; turns out to have tool kit for fixing them

  1. 1
    DATCG says:

    Modular design of components allows interchangeable parts distribution and common code exchange.

    “This biological adaptation is also a mechanism of rapid evolution, Pierce says. “When a successful transfer of genes between species occurs, evolution can basically happen from one generation to the next,” he notes, rather than over an evolutionary time scale of thousands of years.

    or “over an evolutionary time scale of” 2 billion years?

    So much for Darwin’s gradualism.

    Functional gene transfer between kingdoms through one generation = light speed on evolutionary time scale compared to gradualist predictions of billions of years by natural selection and random mutations.

    Random Mutations that cause rejection of these rapid exchanges of functional programming might be fatal to survival of the slug.

    How long did it take for the slug to allow such functional adaptations? Did it always exist? For say, “2 billion years?” Or only in the last few thousands of years?

    If it did not exist from the beginning, how many “random mutations” were required “over time” to build a “natural” mechanism to allow fully functional, clean transfer of genes?

    Recent ability of the slug, or ancient? Modular architecture to allow beneficial variations might be built-in hotspots(exchange zones) that are conserved from the beginning for survival.

  2. 2
    Andre says:

    This was very unexpected but Darwin predicted it. We should give him his own holiday.

  3. 3
    ppolish says:

    Feed that snail some croutons.

  4. 4
    polistra says:

    Looking like a plant is the best part. Mollusks often have ‘leafy’ membranes for swimming or sliming, but other mollusks DON’T have perfectly leaflike veins in their membranes.

    There are clearly other plant-ish genes involved here besides the genes that provide plugins for chloroplasts. And if these plant-ish genes are available to a slug, they must be available to all animals but usually not implemented.

  5. 5
    ppolish says:

    “Crickets Evolving Silence” was a big Evo story last year. A parasitic fly with cricket ears eliminated the noisy crickets (it heard them) and the silent crickets proliferated. What evolved here? Silent crickets already were there in the population.

    But how the heck did that fly get cricket ears? That was ignored. A fly has very close contact with crickets and grows cricket ears. Makes no Darwinian sense whatsoever, so it was ignored. Shame.

  6. 6
    MrCollins says:

    Thanks for sharing this, I was quite curious

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