Lateral gene transfer and the history of life
July 20, 2008 2:26 PM   Subscribe

Festooning The Tree Of Life. Carl Zimmer describes new research on lateral gene transfer which makes the Tree of Life look more like a Gordian Knot.
posted by homunculus (15 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
The Loom has moved to Discover, btw.
posted by homunculus at 2:47 PM on July 20, 2008

Although the Loom is on my RSS feed, I somehow missed this article. Thanks for the reminder (and that wicked cool picture of the Gordian Knot of Life)
posted by device55 at 3:02 PM on July 20, 2008

It is only a matter of time before advocates of the pseudo-scientific "Intelligent Design" hypothesis spin this as a victory. Despite opening up new and exciting areas in a robust theory, it will be labeled by the afore-mentioned as a weakness of evolution.
posted by mystyk at 8:22 PM on July 20, 2008

Tree Graph Of Life

Science marches on.

Anyone know any interesting work applying graph theory to evolution? I have to imagine someone has done this.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 8:45 PM on July 20, 2008

Most lateral gene transfer seems to occur in bacteria. It's not quite as exciting as discovering this sort of occurance in vertebrates or other multicellular animals. Cool stuff, but probably below the radar of creationists.

This should ring some alarm bells for those worried about excessive use of antibiotics. It means not only can individual strains of bacteria evolve resistance to traditional antibiotics, but once immunity is developed, they may be able to share it with their friends.
posted by Loudmax at 9:08 PM on July 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have a very, very vague memory of reading about research indicating lateral gene transfer among plants— mediated by root bacteria, or fungal symbiotes, or something.
posted by hattifattener at 10:14 PM on July 20, 2008

Fuck plants, lateral gene transfer to humans.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:24 PM on July 20, 2008

That's why I always wear a condom when I fuck a plant.
posted by homunculus at 10:57 PM on July 20, 2008

Careful, those rubber trees are sneakier than you might expect.
posted by ryanrs at 3:02 AM on July 21, 2008

TheOnlyCoolTim: was that the link you intended to post? I clicked through to here but there was nothing there either. I know that there was some controversy back in 2001 about bacterial genes in the human genome, but I don't know how that played out. It's a fascinating subject, for sure.
posted by nowonmai at 9:18 AM on July 21, 2008

I linked to the "Human endogenous retroviruses" article, not the "Horizontal gene transfer" one?

Basically, there are retroviruses (like AIDS) which insert their DNA into the genome of the cell they infect, and some of them have infected the gametes and thus are now passed down through generations, becoming an endogenous retrovirus, and this sort of infection has happened to humans relatively recently in evolutionary terms. So far they seem by and large inactive, but there are suspicions of ERVs being implicated in various medical conditions and I've even read that some researchers have the idea that a sort of tame AIDS-like HERV is part of suppressing the mother's immune response against the "foreign object" baby in the womb in mammals. (Have to go now, no time to look up.)

Viruses? In my human genome? It's more likely than you think.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:49 AM on July 21, 2008

TOCT: It's true in sheep, at least.

But what I was thinking of was gene transfer from one plant to another of the same species, via an intermediate organism. Though like I said, it's a pretty dim memory and I could just be making it up.
posted by hattifattener at 10:03 AM on July 21, 2008

Hey, who TP'd the Tree of Life ?!
posted by Kabanos at 10:23 AM on July 21, 2008

I hadn't previously appreciated this role of ERVs in mammalian reproduction. It's amazing how much our biology seems to be based on hacks and workarounds that are basically there to cope with the junk that infests our genomes.
posted by nowonmai at 11:13 AM on July 21, 2008

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