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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Feb 14;109(7):2434-8. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1114076109. Epub 2012 Jan 30.

Horizontal transfer of chloroplast genomes between plant species.

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  • 1Max-Planck-Institut für Molekulare Pflanzenphysiologie, D-14476 Potsdam-Golm, Germany.


The genomes of DNA-containing cell organelles (mitochondria, chloroplasts) can be laterally transmitted between organisms, a process known as organelle capture. Organelle capture often occurs in the absence of detectable nuclear introgression, and the capture mechanism is unknown. Here, we have considered horizontal genome transfer across natural grafts as a mechanism underlying chloroplast capture in plants. By grafting sexually incompatible species, we show that complete chloroplast genomes can travel across the graft junction from one species into another. We demonstrate that, consistent with reported phylogenetic evidence, replacement of the resident plastid genome by the alien genome occurs in the absence of intergenomic recombination. Our results provide a plausible mechanism for organelle capture in plants and suggest natural grafting as a path for horizontal gene and genome transfer between sexually incompatible species.

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