|Frankenstein foreground from Wikipedia (Universal Studios, NBCUniversal). Background is Phragmites australis|
The grasses (Family Poaceae) are the most successful and economically important plant family today. They are supremely adaptable and hardy, and exist in numberless hordes from the rainforests of the equator, to the driest deserts of the American West, and even to the cold and almost lifeless vastness of Antarctica.
The ability of species in this family to adapt to different environmental conditions has been one of the factors which has made it so successful, and researchers have recently elucidated one of the reasons for this adaptability.
A new study has discovered that many grasses can readily absorb novel genetic information from their environment, and incorporate them into their own genome (Hibdige et al, 2021)! They do this via a process called Lateral Gene Transfer (LGT), where a species can acquire new adaptive genes and traits from completely different species without any sexual reproduction.
|Echinochloa crus-galli had evidence of at least 10 LGT|
|Zea mays (maize/corn) had at least 11 LGT|
|Distribution of LGT in tested grass species|
Christin PA, Edwards EJ, Besnard G, Boxall SF, Gregory R, Kellogg EA, Hartwell J, Osborne CP. Adaptive evolution of C(4) photosynthesis through recurrent lateral gene transfer. Curr Biol. 2012 Mar 6;22(5):445-9. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.01.054. Epub 2012 Feb 16. PMID: 22342748.
Hibdige, S.G.S., Raimondeau, P., Christin, P.-A. and Dnning, L.T. (2021), Widespread lateral gene transfer among grasses. New Phytol. https://doi.org/10.1111/nph.17328