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Natural GMOs here, there and everywhere

Besides our DNA being the result of billions of years of modification of our ancestral lineage, we also have ‘foreign’ DNA that came from insertion through horizontal gene transfer (HGT).  And so do a lot of other animals and creatures.


A couple of years ago, the finding that a quarter of the cow genome came from snakes highlighted the potential of HGT, combined with the subsequent copying and pasting characteristic of a jumping gene, to dramatically alter the genome of the recipient organism. More commonly associated with bacteria, HGT also occurs between animals and it turns out in this case the transfer was likely carried out by a tick capable of sucking and exchanging blood between very different animals.

NATURAL GMOs series by GMO Pundit

Over the last 11 years, Professor David Tribe has written and reported about natural GMOs on his GMO Pundit blog, and this series now includes over 240 articles on naturally occurring genetic changes within and transfer between organisms, some occurring on a very grand scale. It is a wonderful collection and a great educational resource about the continuous flux of DNA and genes traveling between seemingly all forms of life, and about the often surprising results.  Here are some examples of the diverse topics from this collection:

  •  Genes move around, and I mean really around, like in the Ancient Mariner
  • Jumping genes cause mutations.
  • Most flowering plant species arise in evolution by addition of sets of genes from two different plants to create a novel species
  • About half the chromosomal DNA of humans, animals and plants is sourced from mobile DNA
  • Transgenic organisms have existed for billions of years and are 100% natural
  • New evidence suggests genes in parasitic nematodes were acquired from bacteria
  • Bacterial to animal gene transfers now shown to be widespread
  • You are what you eat, what you live on, what lives on you, and what lives in you
  • Mammals made by viruses
  • Genes move from insect hosts to their microscopic parasites
  • Genetic information migrates from plant to plant via tissue grafts
  • Gene silencing helped create flowering plants
  • Human gut microbes swap genes around all the time
  • Ancient horizontal transfers of retrotransposons between birds and ancestors of human pathogenic nematodes

From the pop out menu on the right side of the blog page, the entire series on Natural GMOs can be found in the labels option.

While some in the public are concerned about genetic modification including genetic engineering, where DNA and genes are moved between species and beyond, the inescapable conclusion from this tour of natural GMOs is that gene modification and movement have been a long-standing part of nature’s modus operandi for evolution.

Our ability to decipher even some of biology’s amazing complexity, and to put it to use for improving our existence, should also be celebrated on this Earth Day.

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