Genes borrowed from bacteria allowed plants to move to land


Share post:

Natural genetic engineering allowed plants to move from water to land, according to a new study by an international group of scientists from Canada, China, France, Germany, and Russia.

Genes borrowed from bacteria allowed plants to move to land
Microscopic image of Spirogloea muscicola, a new species of algae identified as part of a study that shows
how plants evolved to move from water to land [Credit: Barbara & Michael Melkonian]

“This is one of the most important events in the evolution of life on this planet–without which we as a species would not exist,” said Gane Ka-Shu Wong, co-investigator and professor in the Faculty of Science and Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry at the University of Alberta. “The movement of life from water to land–called terrestrialization–began with plants and was followed by animals and then, of course, humans. This study establishes how that first step took place.”

The movement of plants from water to land was made possible when genes from soil bacteria were transferred to algae through a process called horizontal gene transfer. Unlike vertical gene transfer, such as the transfer of DNA from parent to child, horizontal gene transfer occurs between different species.

“For hundreds of millions of years, green algae lived in freshwater environments that periodically fell dry, such as small puddles, river beds, and trickling rocks,” explained Michael Melkonian, professor in the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany. “These algae mingled with and received key genes from soil bacteria that helped them and their descendants to cope with the harsh terrestrial environment and eventually evolve into the land plant flora that we see today.”

The study is part of an international project focused on sequencing the genomes of more than 10,000 plant species. The discovery was made in the process of sequencing two particular algae, one of them a new species (Spirogloea muscicola) being introduced to the community through this publication.

“The approach that we used, phylogenomics, is a powerful method to pinpoint the underlying molecular mechanism of evolutionary novelty,” said Shifeng Cheng, first author and principal investigator from Agricultural Genome Institute at Shenzhen, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

The study was published in Cell.

Author: Katie Willis | Source: University of Alberta [November 14, 2019]



Related articles

Coral lifestyles reflected in their genes

The first comparative genome study between two corals reveals significant evolutionary differences. These findings could help scientists understand...

The toughest life on Earth

You can freeze it, thaw it, vacuum dry it and expose it to radiation, but still life survives....

The origins of Cuban species

The Caribbean islands form a natural laboratory for the study of evolution due to their unique biological and...

Missing link: Fossil explains transition from sea to land

A celebrated missing-link fossil found in the Canadian Arctic seven years ago has led scientists to a significant...

Ancient records prompt rethink of animal evolution timeline

Scientists are rethinking a major milestone in animal evolution, after gaining fresh insights into how life on Earth...

Biologists replicate key evolutionary step

More than 500 million years ago, single-celled organisms on Earth's surface began forming multicellular clusters that ultimately became...

Iconic Darwin finch genome sequenced

Scientists have sequenced the genome of one of the iconic Galapagos finches first described by Charles Darwin. The...

In the beginning…was the beaker?

That question has long perplexed scientists in fields from cosmology to anthropology. Fortunately, researchers at the Office of...