Horizontal gene transfer between sexually incompatible grass lineages

Three scientists from the Institute of Botany in Průhonice (Václav Mahelka, Karol Krak, Judith Fehrer) have, in cooperation with colleages from the Institute of Experimental Botany in Olomouc and the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research in Gatersleben, Germany, published results of a project funded by the Czech Science Foundation in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA), one of the most influential general scientific journals worldwide.

Nuclear ribosomal DNA of panicoid grasses (Panicoideae) has been detected in a wide range of wild barley species (Hordeum, Pooideae). Pooideae and Panicoideae lineages have diverged from each other about 60 million years ago and do not cross in nature. The authors conclude that the non-native DNA in barleys was acquired by at least nine independent horizontal transfers from panicoid grasses that happened during the last 1-5 million years in Central Asia and South America. The acquired genes have lost functionality and are embedded in noncoding DNA from the panicoid donor. These results show that horizontal gene transfer between vascular plants is not rare, that it can affect large amounts of genetic material, and that it need not have a selective advantage for the host. The paper can be openly accessed here.