Agricultural parasite avoids evolutionary arms race, shuts down genes of host

A parasitic plant has found a way to circumvent an evolutionary arms race with the host plants from which it steals nutrients, allowing the parasite to thrive on a variety of agriculturally important plants. The parasite dodder, an agricultural pest found on every continent, sends genetic material into its host to shut down host defense genes.

The parasitic plant dodder has stolen over 100 functional genes from its hosts through a process called horizontal gene transfer, according to a new study led by researchers at Penn State. These stolen genes contribute to dodder’s ability to attach to and steal nutrients from its host and even to send genetic weapons back into the host. IMAGE: CLAUDE DEPAMPHILIS, PENN STATE