The researchers unravelled the remarkable history of an Italian interloper, a close relative of the common British weed Groundsel, that was first brought to the UK 300 years ago. In an amazing piece of genetic detective work, to be published in Science on Friday, they tracked down a small region of DNA in the British weed that came from its Sicilian relative.
This region of DNA modifies the flowers, making the weed more attractive to pollinators. The results demonstrate how natural genetic exchanges can allow important traits to be transferred between species, much as a word from one human language might be usefully incorporated into another.
An Oxford Ragwort (S. squalidus) superimposed on Oxford
This goes against the typical view of evolution as a one-way street in which each species evolves as a separate, independent genetic lineage. Instead, hybridisation between closely related forms may allow evolutionary cross-talk in which valuable genes can be exchanged and preserved. The result is greater flexibility and potential for diversity during evolution.
The John Innes Centre, www.jic.ac.uk, is an independent, world-leading research centre in plant and microbial sciences with over 800 staff. JIC is based on Norwich Research Park and carries out high quality fundamental, strategic and applied research to understand how plants and microbes work at the molecular, cellular and genetic levels. The JIC also trains scientists and students, collaborates with many other research laboratories and communicates its science to end-users and the general public. The JIC is grant-aided by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £420M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk
This work was funded by BBSRC, EMBO, HFSP and NERC
Article: ‘Regulatory genes control a key morphological and ecological trait transferred between species’ doi 10.1126/science.1164371
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