SBU Co-Led Study Finds Parasitic Plants Steal Nutrients, Genes From Their Hosts
Reveals first evidence of substantial horizontal gene transfer from a host to a parasitic plant
The plant, Rafflesia cantleyi, is an obligate holoparasite dependent on its host, Tetrastigma rafflesiae, a member of the grape family, for sustenance. Rafflesias have the largest known flowers at approximately three feet across.
A team of researchers led by Professor Rest and Professor Davis collaborated to systematically investigate the extent of horizontal gene transfer between these two plants. By looking at the transcriptome, the transcribed products of switched on genes, they found 49 genes transcribed by the parasite, accounting for 2% of their total transcriptome, which originally belonged to the host. Three quarters of these transcripts appear to have replaced the parasites’ own version.
“This research suggests that this horizontal gene transfer may be important to
“Our study suggests that the Rafflesia genome may have evolved to mimic the genome of its host,” said Professor Rest. “This study highlights the power of genomics to learn about the life history and evolutionary strategies of the diversity of life."
Professor Rest’s lab uses both bioinformatic and experimental approaches to study the evolution of gene regulation and the consequences of variation in gene expression on the fitness of organisms. He is an associate member of the Laufer Center for Physical and Quantitative Biology at Stony Brook and has published 18 articles in various publications, including: PLoS ONE, Human Molecular Genetics, Journal of Molecular Evolution, BMC Biology, Infection, Genetics and Evolution and more. He received his BS in Biology from Drake University (1999) and his PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Michigan (2004).