This Parasitic Plant Stole Over 100 Genes From Other Plants | SciShow News
Articles,  Blog

This Parasitic Plant Stole Over 100 Genes From Other Plants | SciShow News

This episode of SciShow News is supported by NordVPN. Head over to to learn more about virtual private networks and internet security. [♪ INTRO] Plants might seem kind of dull and boring, but they are full of intrigue. And two new papers published this week showed just how manipulative and cunning they can be. The first, published in Nature Plants, found that parasitic dodder plants from the genus Cuscuta have stolen dozens of genes from their hosts. And they don’t just take genes — they use them too. You see, dodders are parasitic plants that don’t have chlorophyll—the pigment which captures light energy during photosynthesis. That means they can’t use light to fuel chemical reactions in their cells. So instead, they get pretty much everything they need by getting real cozy with a host plant. They wrap around a plant’s stems and pierce them with structures called haustoria. These create direct lines to the host’s
phloem — the tube-like tissue that transports nutrients down from the leaves to the rest of the plant. And nutrients and water aren’t the only thing dodders steal from their hosts. Scientists identified 108 chunks of DNA from other plants that field dodders have added to their genomes. These genes help the dodders grow better haustoria, metabolize amino acids, and make little pieces of RNA to send back into the host to dull its defenses. This isn’t the first time scientists have found evidence for horizontal gene transfer in a parasitic plant, of course. But the scale is noteworthy—these plants have at least twice as many stolen genes as any other genus of parasitic plant studied to date. Dodders might be better genetic thieves because their haustoria latch on to stems, where there are lots of young, healthy cells full of DNA. Other parasitic plants tend to attach to roots, which have less DNA per unit of tissue. Also, this genetic theft didn’t happen all at once. 16 to 20 of these genes were taken by a dodder ancestor around 34 million years ago, and have been evolving in two separate lineages of dodders ever since. Other stolen genes are much more recent, which suggests this horizontal gene transfer is
ongoing. That flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which is that gene transfer is rare in plants, animals, fungi, and other living things with complex, compartmented cells. How these plants manage to pull off these heists isn’t yet clear. They have to sneak past cell walls and penetrate the protective membranes surrounding their host cells’ nuclei to get access to
their genes. And understanding how they do that could teach us a lot about the inner workings of cells and genomes. But, however they do it, it’s clear that horizontal gene transfer is an unexpected way parasitic plants can get a leg up on their hosts over time. And speaking of surprising plant abilities, a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests some plants have an ingenious long-term defense strategy against insects. They can use chemicals and spikes to give the pests leaky gut syndrome. I’m really glad I don’t have that. That’s where the lining of the intestine is weakened and allows bits of food or bacteria to leak into other layers of tissue. When that happens, the unwelcome gunk can trigger immune responses which sap the animal’s energy, leaving less for things like growth and reproduction. But the bacteria are the real danger — if they get where they don’t belong, they can cause a life-threatening infection. And the researchers found that’s exactly what happens to fall armyworms. The defenses of the plants they eat leave
them vulnerable to infection from their own bacteria! To figure this all out, the team raised fall armyworm larvae in a sterile lab so they didn’t have any natural gut bacteria. Then, they gave some of them food doused with 1 of 3 bacteria species often found in the animals’ guts in the wild. Other armyworms were fed sterile food so they had no gut bacteria. They then fed the larvae 1 of 3 kinds of maize. One had long, spiky hairs on its surface called trichomes. Another produced a gut-piercing enzyme. And the last had short, mostly harmless trichomes, so it was considered the most palatable. When the armyworms ate the spike – or chemically – defended maizes, they suffered — but it was their own bacteria that made the biggest impact. The armyworms with gut bacteria grew 60 to
76% less than the ones without gut bacteria, and up to 10x as many died, depending on the maize they ate. They also had greater immune response, which likely explains the lack of growth. And all of this varied by the specific kind of bacteria in their gut. That suggests a plant’s defensive success depends a lot on an insect’s individual
bacterial community. Now, researchers want to better understand these microbial communities, including how they interact with plant defenses, because
that could help us win the war against agricultural
pests. It might allow researchers to design crops that stack defenses on top of each other to give insects leaky guts more effectively,
for instance. That way, they’d be able to thwart the bugs that eat plants in a more targeted manner while reducing the use of pesticides. Even if, in the end, we can’t really implement this knowledge, simply discovering that plants can induce this kind of syndrome in insects reveals that their interactions with animals are more complex than we used
to think. And all of this goes to show that while, at times, the plant world may not seem as dramatic as the animal world, plants are every bit as conniving and ruthless. Unfortunately people can be pretty conniving and ruthless, as well, which is why it’s
so important to make sure your internet service is secure. Luckily, NordVPN can help with that. Their VPN service is compatible with most operating systems, and you can send and receive information securely on up to 6 devices at once. So your phone, tablet, laptop, and desktop can all be protected by the same plan! And they have thousands of super-fast servers in dozens of countries, and you can even double-encrypt your data to be extra anonymous. Plus, if you have any issues, they have 24/7 customer support to help you figure things
out. For a limited time, you can get 75% off a three-year plan at That’s SciShow – you know how to spell SciShow, right? This special offer makes your subscription just $2.99 per month. And not only will your information be safe, you’ll be supporting SciShow, as well! [♪ OUTRO]


  • SciShow

    Go to and use code SCISHOW to get 75% off a 3 year plan. Protect yourself online today!

  • Alex O

    If I were a betting man I'd say that the way that they steal genes is when they wrap themselves onto a plant they mimic it's system so completely that it literally spreads into them, then they simply ingest the cells along with everything else and over many years incorporate them as their generational genome.

  • Caged Creature

    Oh uh uh! Nah nah! No no no no! You do not start saying "FUNGE-EYE" it's "FUN-GUY" and it always has been! SO NO!

  • Anthony Deng

    Isn’t this a Doctor Who episode waiting to happen or that has happened? Like a parasitic life form latching onto humans, leeching off their DNA, becoming human-like and sentient themselves, and then trying to take over the world?

  • Daaneth Kivioq

    DO NOT USE NORD VPN! This VPN is itself Malware that will lock up your PC rendering it useless. Nord VPN's idea of protecting you from online threats is to prevent you from getting online. Use Express VPN instead. It's fast, reliable and trustworthy

  • Neko Mancer

    no it is very useful. see if we didnt spread bacteriocides and fungicides and herbicides and pesticides then the plants covered in bacteria and fungi could more readily kill their pests by infecting their guts with bacteria that work in conjunction with the chemical defences of the plant to kill pest insects and be overall healthier thereby shading out the weeds with their foliage and not needing herbicides to give em a leg up

  • MrGlobbits

    Brambles. Not the innocent blackberry makers you thought them to be….

  • Lionel tx

    Scishow is now selling stuff on their show! We already have advertisements before and after the episode. Common!

    Btw : plant power! Love plant research , they are the best!

  • Blue Smoke

    So in the experiment with the maze, if the trichomes cause a leaky gut in the worms, why wouldn't it cause something similar in humans? We may have a more diverse gut biome, but that just means more things could go wrong. Answer me this; would you eat it? Stop acting like effing with our food is a good idea.

  • PhoenixPaw

    Le Sigh you had such a nice set up to say that some parts of the plant-world was root-less … but you missed it.

  • Dustin Manke

    It's a video having to do with genes, and right after he said that, the panel on the left looked like jeans. I wonder if that was planned.

  • Kapil Makkar

    00:38 Please explain one thing, if Dodders don"t have chlorophyll then how are they categorised at plants? What i know is that mushrooms are also a species which do not have chlorophyll and hence are categorised under fungus and not plants.

  • Ryan StonedOnCanadianGaming

    What about us developing leaky gut from evolved plants defence systems? 5:00
    Technically vegetarians are pests to plants…

  • Aspirative Music Production

    Creating plants which are bad for insects may be dangerous because may have negative effects on humans too.

  • Mystee Pulcine

    So does this imply that leaky gut syndrome may be a real thing in people? Cause i'm tired of that debate, and it would be nice to have some evidence one way or the other.

  • Magnetite

    Question: If we genetically modify food crops to give insects Leaky Gut Syndrome, how do we know it won't give humans leaky Gut Syndrome? Had to ask.

  • A.M.T.

    For a science channel as, big as scishow for only have captions in English nowadays is just not giving back to the world. The cost and the time to make these translations would worth in number of views and in spread the word.

  • Joshua David

    NORD vpn= NERD!!! just kidding bro! lol!

    Edit: I didn't know "hair-like" projections were called "trichomes" on OTHER plants lmao!

  • Jeff Mullins

    And that's why I ask Vegan's how eating plants is better than animals. No one has been able to answer that yet.

  • Kathleen Norton

    You would think it would steel genes to make the ability to create photosynthesis. Photosynthesis must be too complicated, I would guess.

  • Matthew Trzcinski

    Wait, so researchers are just now finding plants give insects IBS and Celiac syndromes? Lectins have been known for years. Stop eating plants and your problems go away.

  • Matthew Cecil

    Horizontal gene transfer from host plant to parasitic plant is likely facilitated by a virus or bacteria species that has evolved to infect both species due to their proximity and exchange of internal fluids. In other words, the plant's only mechanism for "stealing" genes is by sheer dumb luck, and then its offspring are at the whims of mother nature in the even slighter hope those genes are beneficial. Don't get me wrong, it's still impressive that over 100 genes were assimilated into this plant specie's genome; one can only imagine how many genes were implanted into their genome in all, only to cause their offspring to be less fit for survival. Thousands? Millions?

  • Green blue

    Unsubscribed your channel because it really lacks graphic illustration and the information doesn’t make much of sense. Maybe it’s because other channels

  • Captain Hindsight

    I just saw a field of hundreds of Dodders In South Texas, I didn't know what they were.

    The 29th was the first time I ever saw them and I am first seeing this Video on the 30th.

    It looked like random piles of hay in the field, but when you look closer it looks like a golden net wrapped around the plants.

  • Viktor Rhyce91

    The thing about Genetics is about a misconception people hear about Genetics. Genetics are not just your DNA, it is actually what your body relies on! You body relies on Genetics as the structure for growth and other functions the Genetics tell about. Genetics are NOT just programming, but a structure anything living relies off of!
    Just like you chop the testicles of a dog off of theur body to reduce aggression, why not do it to people? See, people are NOT born aggressive to the mind, so debunk on mental illness for that! Scientists need to study Genetics and might see that some are born aggressive by Genetics and not the a defect in the brain. Might as chop people's balls off like you do to a dog!
    The point is, Genetics has a more complicated ground than people think. If life-forms had NO Genetics, they would have NO structure for growth.
    Nothing created us, so screw religion when it said so! No, we came from a form of structure that changed over time, all in a natural process commonly ignored.
    Genetics are not just programming.
    Genetics are a form of basic structure life-forms need to commence growth…

  • deisisase

    Could the parasites have stolen RNA and written it into there genome; like a virus might write itself into our genome?

  • Wisakedjak Archetype

    People should start talking about the direct effect of excess CO2 on plant material. plants (fruits and vegetables and everything else) are producing more carbohydrates in place of vital nutrients. As CO2 rises our food is lowering in nutrients…
    Nutrient density has lowered.

  • cameron taylor

    Funny how they name the plant Dodders.. reminds of the biblical verse “When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. Then the Lord said, "My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years." The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown.

    — Genesis 6:1–4, New Revised Standard Version”

    It’s obvious this information isn’t new… it’s called Occult sciences… or the mystery schools… linked to the rosecrusions… the Freemasons… the alchemist… the ancient Egyptians.. etc…

  • cameron taylor

    So basically dodders is code for the human body … and the insects who get leaky gut syndrome is also natural fractal of the lives and bodies of all men on earth… so when “they” have plans to make plants that target “insects” or “pests” To induce sickness and weaken them there really talking about how to poison and sicken mass populations… GREAT!

  • ION_Entertainment

    Genestealers! This one of the least mobile strands I have ever seen….The Biologis may be interrested in this…

  • Peter Karig

    When I was a kid in LaJolla CA years ago I had one of these in our yard. I called it witches hair, and fed it every day with fresh foliage I would find. A few days ago I saw one in Ithaca NY by Cayuga lake. It's bright orange and look alien as hell!

  • Stephen kabya

    Just like the enslaving French did to 6 African countries.!! Those f*u kers have stolen African resources and believe this: require a those 6 African countries to pay taxes to France to this day????even after ongoing (not ended) slavery! ¡ WTF!!!!

  • Gizmo

    All this makes me think, did good ol mother nature give up on our evolution because we are able to control our own destinies… I know evolution is still at work, but clearly not as much as it is in other organisms…..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *