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Crop Biotech Update

Genetic Study of 'Co-evolution' Could Provide Clues to Better Food Production

June 24, 2015

An international team of researchers led by the University of Missouri (MU) and Stockholm University has used cutting-edge genomics to analyze the co-evolution theory of Peter Raven and Paul Erhlich in 1964, and identified the mechanisms responsible for this phenomenon. Scientists believe that understanding how co-evolution works could help provide genetic clues for producing heartier plants and food for a growing global population.

The research team gained insight into the genetic basis of co-evolution between butterflies and cabbage plants was driven by new copies of genes rather than simple mutations on the strands of DNA of both species. This information can provide new possibilities for creating more pest-resistant plants and potential food sources.

According to Chris Pires from the MU Bond Life Sciences Center, glucosinolates, or what humans enjoy as the sharp flavors of horseradish and mustard, is toxic to most insects. In this co-evolution 'arms race,' white cabbage butterflies and their relatives evolved the ability to detoxify glucosinolates soon after these chemical defenses appeared in plants. According to the research, this back-and-forth dynamic was repeated, resulting in the formation of new species than in other groups of plants and butterflies without glucosinolates and the corresponding detoxification genes.

For more details, read the news release at the University of Missouri website.