New research finds that some yeast picked up a whole suite of genes from bacteria that gave them the new ability to scavenge iron from their environment. It's one of the clearest examples yet of the transfer of genes from one branch on the tree of life to another.
As part of the Y1000+ Project to sequence the genomes of more than 1,000 yeast species, researchers were searching for genes that enable the production of iron-scavenging molecules. Those genes hadn't been seen in yeasts before.
Such genetic transfers from prokaryotic bacteria to eukaryotes like fungi had been seen before but not all that often.
They're known as horizontal gene transfers, because instead of moving vertically across generations, the genes move sideways between unrelated organisms.
And some scientists remain skeptical that these gene transfers happen at all within eukaryotes, organisms with nuclei that include plants and animals in addition to fungi.