Plants evolve away from obsolete defenses when attacked by immune herbivores, study shows

phys.org | 2/26/2018 | Staff
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Do you know what caused soldiers to stop wearing chainmail and steel plate armor? Evolution.

Really, guns made armies drop steel gauntlets and breastplates. Bullets that could punch through armor quickly made it obsolete. So, armies evolved away from armor because it wasn't working any longer and there was no point in spending the resources on it. "Adapt or die," as the saying goes.

Research - Academy - Natural - Sciences - Drexel

Now, new research out of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University shows that plants similarly adapt away from obsolete defenses.

The study, published in New Phytologist and led by Tatyana Livshultz, PhD, assistant curator of Botany at the Academy and an assistant professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, found genetic evidence that multiple lineages of plants, whose ancestors produced a chemical that may deter herbivores, evolved to stop producing it, potentially as a response to a prime foe's immunity.

Livshultz - Team - Evolution - Gene - Production

Livshultz and her team traced the evolution of a gene that is involved in the production of a class of chemicals that are highly toxic to humans and other mammals, called pyrrolizidine alkaloids, in Apocynaceae, a flowering plant family commonly known as the dogbanes and milkweeds. By tracing the gene back, they were able to find out when production of the chemicals first evolved and how many times it was discontinued.

After identifying a single origin of the gene (and, by inference, the chemicals) in the most recent common ancestor of more than 75 percent of current Apocynaceae species, the researchers found evidence that the gene became nonfunctional (and the chemicals "lost" to evolution) at least four different times among that plant's descendants.

Correlation - Gene - Distribution - Plants - Interactions

Looking for a correlation between the gene's distribution in the plants and interactions with animals unfazed by the defense alkaloids, Livshultz and her team found a significant connection with Danainae (milkweed and clearwing) butterflies.

Almost every species...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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