Horizontal genome transfer as an asexual path to the formation of new species

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Allopolyploidization, the combination of the genomes from two different species, has been a major source of evolutionary innovation and a driver of speciation and environmental adaptation1,2,3,4. In plants, it has also contributed greatly to crop domestication, as the superior properties of many modern crop plants were conferred by ancient allopolyploidization events5,6. It is generally thought that allopolyploidization occurred through hybridization events between species, accompanied or followed by genome duplication6,7. Although many allopolyploids arose from closely related species (congeners), there are also allopolyploid species that were formed from more distantly related progenitor species belonging to different genera or even different tribes8. Here we have examined the possibility that allopolyploidization can also occur by asexual mechanisms. We show that upon grafting—a mechanism of plant–plant interaction that is widespread in nature—entire nuclear genomes can be transferred between plant cells. We provide direct evidence for this process resulting in speciation by creating a new allopolyploid plant species from a herbaceous species and a woody species in the nightshade family. The new species is fertile and produces fertile progeny. Our data highlight natural grafting as a potential asexual mechanism of speciation and also provide a method for the generation of novel allopolyploid crop species.

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