I am not quite finished with the book (The Tangled Tree) and maybe the author (David Quammen) will tell me before he stops but I am eager to know now. Is HGT an accepted fact by scientists today? I know there are always some to dispute any fact or theory but, in general from the scientific community, is it seen as a genuine scientific study? It is certainly interesting and I am especially wondering how the medical community accepts - or rejects - the idea. Do they consider it in searching for causes of illnesses?
Since Darwin, much of the theory of evolution has been based on common descent, where natural selection acts on the genes passed from parent to offspring.
However, scientists have known for some time that horizontal gene transfer—the movement of genetic information between organisms other than parent-to-offspring inheritance—is commonplace in bacteria and simple eukaryotes.
Lateral gene transfer allows organisms to bypass evolution and skip to the front of the queue by using genes that they acquire from distantly related species.
Scientists have discovered that grasses are able to short cut evolution by taking genes from their neighbors. The findings suggest wild grasses are naturally genetically modifying themselves to gain a competitive advantage.
"Grasses are simply stealing genes and taking an evolutionary shortcut," said Dr. Luke Dunning.
"They are acting as a sponge, absorbing useful genetic information from their neighbors to out compete their relatives and survive in hostile habitats without putting in the millions of years it usually takes to evolve these adaptations."
I find the bolded part particularly interesting. What IF lateral gene transfer could be used to allow a chimpanzee to evolve towards humans “without putting in the millions of years it usually takes”?
Science fiction, or maybe someday possible?
Link to Research Paper