Parasitic Plant Strangleweed Injects Host With Thousands Of Its Own Expressed Genes
Virginia Tech professor and Fralin Life Institute affiliate Jim Westwood has made a discovery about plant-to-plant communication: enormous amounts of genetic messages in the form of mRNA transcripts are transmitted from the parasitic plant Cuscuta (known more commonly as dodder and strangleweed) to its hosts.
Using Illumina next generation sequencing technologies to sequence the tissues of the host and an attached parasite, the team found that the number of genes that gets passed into the host depends on the identity of the host. The tomato plant received 347 of the strangleweed’s mRNAs, whereas the Arabidopsis received an astonishing 9514 mRNAs. When Arabidopsis plant receives this many mRNAs, the total genetic material of tissues in contact with the strangleweed is about 45% from the parasite.