Jumping Genes

No, not jumping jeans. We’re talking DNA not dancing music. Horizontal DNA transfer is a booming field of evolutionary science which is hot on the trail of explaining large leaps in evolution. H-DNA transfer can occur between species and, in fact, between the plant and animal kingdom. It also can occur between viruses and other species as well as between bacteria and higher forms of life. We’re not just talking infection but gene/DNA transfer into the other species.

Take the lowly sweet potato. Sweet potatoes from all over the world naturally contain genes from the bacterium Agrobacterium. Researchers from UGent and the International Potato Institute (CIP) published this discovery on the website of PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America). Interestingly, the sweet potato is one of the most important food crops for human consumption in the world. Because of the presence of this “foreign” DNA, sweet potato can be seen as a “natural GMO.”But, it was ‘modified’ by bacteria, not lab scientists.


                                                                   Photo courtesy of Science Daily

This gene transfer is most common in a group of organisms which scientists have labeled prokaryotes- organisms which do not have a defined nucleus to envelop its DNA materials. An article in Aeon by Ferris Jebr states:

‘What scientists have seen is just a little tip of an immense iceberg,’ says Antonio Teixeira, a biologist at the University of Brasilia. W Ford Doolittle, a biochemist at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, agrees: horizontal gene transfer, he wrote recently ‘is far more pervasive and more radical in its consequences than we could have guessed just a decade ago’. Researchers have now discovered so many examples of gene transfer between species and kingdoms of life – with many more surely to come – that they have to adjust their understanding of how evolution works. Standard evolutionary theory does not account for the possibility of complex organisms suddenly acquiring genes from other species, let alone how those foreign genes might change a creature for better or worse. Think of it this way: if the genomes of living species are flowers on different branches of the great evolutionary tree of life, horizontal gene transfer is a subversive wind whipping pollen from one part of the tree to another.

What about us? Well, if we put on our Thinking Caps, we might be able to imagine that we are big clumps of composite DNA which got transferred into us from non-human sources along our evolutionary trail. In other words, we may be the at the top of evolutionary heap, having acquired bits and pieces of ‘stuff’ from creatures lower in the pile. Not exactly what Genesis says especially the part about being made in the image of God.

For an interesting read about how the fern stole the DNA from the hornwort visit http://aeon.co/magazine/science/how-horizontal-gene-transfer-changes-evolutionary-theory/


3 thoughts on “Jumping Genes

  1. As an occasional visitor now, I see there are a number of posts with “comments off”, what gives?

    BTW, the gene theory of disease is old school, like learning long-division which you wrote about below… MDs use the genetic theory of disease as a myth played on the lives of the multitude to enhance their lifestyle… they cure nothing! They treat a symptom of disease. Cure is a 4-letter word
    to most MDs….A surgeon is needed to repair a serious abnormality as an infant born with a heart, lung or other cardiovascular issue….Most doctors don’t want to hear the word cure, just think if type 2 diabetes is curable. Opps, there goes another endocrinologist! The genetic theory of disease is as out dated as the MD murdering our first President by draining his blood out of him for a simple cold….Blood-letting was a common MD procedure well into the 19th century….Now it is genetics…and it is only a ploy to treat a patient for years and reap the monetary benefits from managed care…one pill added to another just to treat the symptom of the disease, not to cure it….The MD likes managing an illness.Why would they want to cure anything, if they can manage your symptoms, say diabetes or arthritis for 30 to 40 years and make $750,000.00 of each patient. Do you think the drugs companies want to cure anything….and the MD is major drg pusher in our society with all kinds of side effects that maim and kill….”Oh,but my doctor has a white coat on and a stethoscope around his neck”…”I have to do what he/she says.”

    1. Well, sure, but the point of the post was not necessarily the connection to doctors and medical treatment. My point was deeper- back to the first living things and how they may have been organized by horizontal gene transfer rather than vertices.

      1. At my more advanced age, going deeper is a challenge…So let me follow up on what I said…Last evening I attended a meeting of the local Parkinson’s disease group….It is in the same category of diseases like
        muscular dystrophy(and the MDA fired Jerry Lewis because he was going to announce that a MD cure had been found for “his kids”. Yeah, the man who raised billions of dollars for the MDA fired on the spot for daring to say there is a cure!), ALS, and Alzheimers Neuromuscular diseases…With Parkinson”s tremors begin and progressively worsen…The MD treats the stmptoms with drugs and more drugs as the symptoms and side effects develop. In the last 10 years a company developed a device that has electrodes put into the brain and then shocked akin to a heart pacemaker…The selling point of the neurosurgeon was it will give you 5 hours of relief during the day…I wanted to puck!…So, when time for questions came..I asked why has Parkinsons been eliminated in the other mammals, but not in the human mammal? He was dumbfounded, my friend, actually hemming and hawing, stuttering to say he didnt know. I then asked is Parkinson’s increasing or decreasing in the U.S. and he very quickly said increasing.
        I asked and why do you suppose that, to which he didn’t know. I asked could it be due to the loss of cholesterol in the brain, which is 75% cholesterol…He responded why would the brain be losing cholesterol…I asked about the cholesterol lowering statin drugs and didnt the AMA issue a waring about the dangerous side effects of statins, and he said yes…Therefore,,,I said this is a MD caused illness the same as Alzheimers…and the way to stop it is to end statin drugs…”Well, that is interesting,” he said….I had made my point so I sat down…aouple more questions from the 50 others and he ended the program….I was then encircled by the people wanting to get my name and how to reach me and how could i help them or their loved one. Suddenly, to women from the technology company break thru the group and say that I,m not part of the program, and that they need to meet with them, and told me I had to leave…that this was their meeting and not mine…..This experience helps to explain somewhat why Americans are not happy, as your chart demonstrated…

Comments are closed.