One of the objections to creating genetically engineered organisms is that material from one species gets incorporated into another, entirely different species. This is seen, somehow, as unnatural. But humans aren’t the only ones that do this:

“Horizontal gene transfer, the movement of genetic material from one organism into the genome of another species, is very common in microbes and is a major way that bacteria can acquire antibiotic resistance,” said Claude dePamphilis, professor of biology at Penn State and senior author of the study. “We don’t see many examples of horizontal gene transfer in complex organisms like plants, and when we do see it, the transferred genetic material isn’t generally used. In this study, we present the most dramatic case known of functional horizontal gene transfer ever found in complex organisms.”

A study from Penn State and Virginia Tech shows the parasitic plant dodder has “stolen” over 100 genes from its host plants, and moreover, many of the foreign genes are functional. The new genes improve dodder’s ability to extract nutrients from host plants. They also send genetic material back to those hosts that cripple their defenses.

Another study, this one from Rutgers, shows that red algae that live in hot springs steal genes from bacteria in order to cope with their extreme environment.

“The role of stolen genes in eukaryotes, which include most living things such as , has been hotly debated and many think it is unimportant and plays little to no role in their biology,” said co-author Debashish Bhattacharya, a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. “Our robust genome data provide the first major evidence that this is a false narrative and that adaptation to a challenging environment can be directly facilitated by stolen genes.”

So it is perfectly “natural” for genetic material in one organism to wind up in another organism!

That’s some real bio-technology, man. Nature is way ahead of us.

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