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article imageMistletoe is genetically different to other plants

By Tim Sandle     Jun 26, 2015 in Science
Mistletoe has been found to be made-up in a slightly different way to other plants or animals: it is missing several key genes needed for energy production in cells.
New research into a species of mistletoe called Viscum scurruloideum has shown that the plant somehow thrives while lacking key genes that other plants possess for making energy. The research group behind the discovery describe the mistletoe as one of the most unusual plants on Earth.
Mistletoe is the common name for several related "parasitic plants." The term parasitic is employed due to the ability of mistletoe to draw nutrients from other plants. Mistletoe plants grow on host trees— in doing so they kill the section of the tree they are growing on. Depending on where in the world the mistletoe is found it will grow on apple trees, lime, poplar, blackthorn, hawthorn, rowan and willow trees. Mistletoe leaves, stems and berries can be poisonous to humans if ingested.
An investigation, using molecular biology techniques, has revealed that the particular species of mistletoe lacks genes found in all other plants relating to the mitochondria. In total nine genes seem to be missing.
Mitochondria are necessary for the metabolism of cellular organisms. They produce energy to power for each cell through respiration.
The research team is speculating that the plant has undergone some type of degenerative mutation; somehow losing the genes and adapting to survive. The theory is that the parasitic behaviour of the plant allows it to replace the internal energy generating function, instead extracting what it needs from the tree it ends up growing on. Further investigation into the parasitic flowering plant is required to work out how it makes its cellular energy.
The finding was made at the Indiana University by Professor Jeff Palmer. The new research has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in a paper headed “Miniaturized mitogenome of the parasitic plant Viscum scurruloideum is extremely divergent and dynamic and has lost all nad genes.”
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