Researchers who studied Rafflesia arnoldii – known as the corpse flower – were surprised to find that its chloroplast genome was missing. This finding relates to the mysterious issue of how parasites shed superfluous genes and acquire new ones from their hosts. Research on Sapria himalayana (another parasitic plant) discovered that it had lost many of its genes, but also stolen many from other species. Furthermore, it was found to have a strikingly high percentage of transposable elements (aka, “jumping genes”). Ultimately, it is hard to tell whether the transposable elements are functional or just genomic clutter. Further research is needed, but this is difficult because these plants are scarce.

Key Takeaways:

  • A 2014 paper described how Rafflesia had no discernible chloroplast genome.
  • Nature shows that parasitism brings with it the loss of genes for vital functions.
  • The plant Sapria has a genome with many transposable elements or jumping genes.

“But when the drive to breed awakens them, the members of the Rafflesiaceae family erupt as immense, stemless, rubbery red “corpse flowers” covered in polka dots, with a putrid smell like rotting meat designed to draw pollinating carrion flies.”

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