Sign up for Scientific American’s totally free newsletters."data-newsletterpromo_article-image=""data-newsletterpromo_article-button-text="Sign Up"data-newsletterpromo_article-button-link=""name="articleBody" itemprop="articleBody">

Rafflesia cantleyi, perhaps much better known as the corpse flower for its pungent scent, steals whatever from that is host. Though each blossom have the right to be in overfill of 3 feet across, the enormous buds cannot support themselves, and have no leaves, stalks or true roots. Instead, castle rely entirely upon your vine host, Tetrastigma rafflesiae, because that survival. Harvard researchers have actually now uncovered that food and also water aren"t the only things the corpse flower steal - end the course of evolution history, Rafflesia has additionally stolen Tetrastigma"s genes.

You are watching: Rafflesia plant and vine symbiotic relationship

The corpse flower and also its host have actually a really intimate relationship. From the start, Rafflesia burrows right into the Tetrastigma"s tissues, cultivation as thread-like strands in direct call with the neighboring vine"s cells. They are so dependant ~ above their organize that the corpse flowers have even lost the capability to make chlorophyll, a requirement for photosynthesis, and also thus defy the an extremely nature of being a plant by gift unable to produce food from sunlight. These helminth feed off their host vines, growing and growing until they lastly erupt, substantially if briefly, right into large, rubbery flowers that stink choose rotting flesh.

Somehow, after generations and generations that intimate contact in between parasite and also host, Rafflesia has ended up with much more than the usual parasitic spoils. As a brand-new study published today in BMC genomics reveals, the parasite expresses dozens of genes that it has actually co-opted native its host.

The i of genes from distant lineages, such as the corpse flower and also its vine host, is well-known as horizontal gene transfer. Though common in bacteria (e.g. The deliver of antibiotic resistance), the is much rarer in plants and also animals, and we tho don"t fully understand just how it occurs.

Scientists were very first alerted that something to be a tiny off through Rafflesia several years ago. At the time, they to be looking in ~ a much bigger photo - the as whole evolution that parasitism in plants - when they i found it something a small odd in your data. For one of the genes, Rafflesia and similarly deeply-embedded parasites didn"t appear to be regarded their closestly kin, and instead, showed up to be cousins of their hosts. Lock hypothesized the such a strange evolution relationship might only have advanced in one way: if the parasites had actually stolen the gene.

See more: What Does The Name Lily Mean In The Bible, What Does The Lily Represent In Christianity

Now, the Harvard team has actually sequenced all of the active genes the both the corpse flower and its hold to recognize how numerous genes to be stolen. Researchers uncovered that 49 the the proteins expressed by Rafflesia - 2% that its spelling, orthography genome - space bootlegged.

"We discovered that number of dozen actively transcribed genes likely originated indigenous the flower"s host," claimed Zhenxiang Xi, very first author and a graduate college student at Harvard University. They likewise found that many of these gene were integrated into the parasites own DNA, also replacing similar genes, and another 3rd of Rafflesia"s very own genes have progressed to look more like the vine"s.

The gene that were stolen do a wide variety of to move functions, including roles in respiration, metabolism, mitochondrial translation, and protein turnover. Their energetic expression argues that they play a vital role in the parasite"s survival, but the researcher hope the future research study will determine exactly how necessary these gene are and whether they aid the parasite evade detection through the host"s immune system. "These findings can reflect a type of genomic camouflage, or genomic mimicry for the parasite," states Charles Davis, co-author and also head the the lab at Harvard. A bacterial pathogen of citrus trees, for example, to produce a hijacked protein which limits the victim"s capability to detect and remove the intruder.

What"s important remarkable around this study is the the price of gene transfer between the vine and its helminth corpse flower is together high as rates of lateral gene carry seen in bacteria. Never before have scientists thought the horizontal gene transfer can play together a pivotal duty in the development of plants and also animals, allow alone in parasite-host relationships. Given that parasites comprise for one astounding 40% that the varieties on Earth, these findings are bound to transform our understanding of evolution processes and how we finished up through the diversity of life we view today.

Rafflesia Image provided by BMC Genomics

The views expressed room those that the author(s) and are no necessarily those of scientific American.



Christie Wilcox is a postdoctoral researcher in cellular and molecular biology at the college of Hawaii, wherein she research studies venom. She is additionally a scientific research blogger and also communicator.Follow Christie Wilcox on TwitterCredit: Nick Higgins