Gene Variation within a Tree

The root system of a tree species is genetically different than the leaves of that individual, potentially modifying scientists’ understanding of evolution.

By Edyta Zielinska | August 13, 2012

axelkr" > Black cottonwood in the Reykjavik Botinical GardenFlickr Creative Commons, axelkr

Sequencing the genomes of tissue taken from the entire black cottonwood tree, from their crowns to their roots, researchers at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found over a hundred thousand mutations that were unique to a particular tissue sample, differing from other parts of the same tree.

“This could change the classic paradigm that evolution only happens in a population rather than at an individual level,” said Brett Olds from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a biologist from the Ken Paige lab that presented the work at a meeting of the Ecological Society of America, according to Nature.

The black cottonwood was chosen for the study because it lives up to 200 years and can produce offspring via new shoots that share the same root system as the parent. While clonally reproduced organisms often share a majority of their genes, the researchers found more similarity between the tops of two different trees than there was between the top and bottom of the same tree. “When people study plants, they’ll often take a cutting from a leaf and assume that it is representative of the plant’s genome,” Olds said. “That may not be the case. You may need to take multiple tissues.”

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Avatar of: Marianne Kaup Hopkins

Marianne Kaup Hopkins

Posts: 1457

August 13, 2012

Similar evidence found in Arabidopsis

Avatar of: bensabio


Posts: 3

August 13, 2012

Fascinating phenomenon.  But what happened to the previous and extremely relevant comment posted by S.J. Lolle, whose research is clearly a vital and pioneering part of this possible breakthrough in "organismal genetics," if I may coin the term.  Her post consisted only of her website that thoroughly explores her findings and responds responsibly to her critics.  I didn't know anything about this research before, and am disturbed to think that the editors of The Scientist have deleted the comment for some reason. I hope it was not censorship but just some kind of error.  Here's that website again: http://www.plant-a-seed.com

Avatar of: Guest


August 13, 2012

My comments on evolutionary theory have aggravated some individuals and made others think.  At no time have I indicated there is no such thing as evolution.  What I HAVE said (resulting in some angry condemnations) is that names for things can be a cop-out.  The highest and best science, I have maintained, and declare here and now, is not science that, by naming a thing, stereotypes it, or instantly assumes it has -- by naming -- adequately described a phenomenon or a mechanism.

According to this stance on my part, a question such as, "Why is that man acting that way?" when responded to by the answer, "He is schizophrenic."  Could, for a non-scientist, be adequate.  And, correspondingly, a counter response of, "Oh, I see," might make perfect sense.  For a SCIENTIST, however, simply NAMING something can be more misleading than productive. 

Whatever is the mind set of those who perceive themselves to be defenders of the faith, as it were, in regard to evolutionary theory, and who feel, it seems, obligated to  pounce upon the comment of anyone who asks any honest question about it, or questions any assumption about it, or asks -- as always do -- "What is the MECHANISM behind that," I may be perceived as an enemy of the concept called "evolution."

I challenge any such defender of the cult to examine whether he or she is defending the concept and popular (or unpopular) notions about evolution to examine just what it is that he or she would defend.  Would that be further progress in discovering mechanisms behind what often seems to be belief in an almost magical process which, no matter how poorly understood as to how it works, must be defended against ignorance?  Or, would there be some among us who are so adamant about claims that evolution is "real," that they imply a condemnation of one of the most important fundamentals of scientific progress:  HONEST  SKEPTICISM.

Progress in the sciences has ALWAYS primarily resulted from two main driving motives:  a.  the motive to observe, measure, experiment, record data and classify that data; and b.  taking note of ANOMALIES and of things that DO NOT FIT THE CURRENT CONSENSUS, and seeking NEW SYNTHESES that have both the capability of providing a rationale for the non-anomalies and offer a better WORKING HYPOTHESIS that better rationalizes both the old AND anomalies that do not fit the old rationale.

Recently a person who claimed to hold a PhD in biology -- in my response to asking for particulars about the dominance or recessiveness of alleles relating to the peppered moth studies, or whether NEW AND DIFFERENT alleles occurred, as opposed to simply selection among already present alleles -- shocked me by saying "It does not matter." 

As best I could assess his stance it is that all we need to know is that certain phenomena, oft cited as "evolution" occur.  We see a macro change, and we have a name for it.  We "diagnose" it, and that's it.

That's it?  And now evolutionary theorists have no further obligation than to go around diagnosing and stamping things with a rubber stamp, saying EVOLUTION?

Thank goodness, I thought to myself, there are people working in studies of genetics, proteomics, human and veterinary medical research, microbiology and other fields who (allow me to estimate) think, as I do, that it damned well  DOES matter what in blazes is GOING ON whereby certain things occur with species and other things do not.

Rather than a counter-response of a scientifically literate person being simply, "Oh."  I assert that the counter-response should always be another question, or many more questions that are raised by any one finding.

I always WELCOME any new finding that is (or even is hawked as being) cause for some assumptions about EVOLUTION to be RE-EVALUATED.

Yes, THAT is, in my respectful opinion, what science is about.

It's a breath of fresh air to encounter thinking that does not seem to treat the concept of evolution as if described a dogma, almost blasphemous to question or investigate.

Science, as one astute philosopher of science put it, cannot PROVE anything, but only can disprove.

I predict that the field of evolutionary theory will be swallowed up into fields of study that do not simply say, "Such and such a phenomenon proves EVOLUTION is scientifically established valid," but will say, "What's going on with this?  Why does this particular thing happen the way it happens?  Why (for example) does a trait rapidly recede in one species, and not recede in another even in the same milieu, or in the same food niches, to another species?"

One is not the enemy of science by virtue of expressing skepticism of syntheses that are growing beards, and pressing for those in research to look further.

On the contrary, one kind of enemy of science may be the VERY kind of individual who says in reply, "You dare to doubt the wisdom of the status quo?  What is your motive in challenging that wisdom (implying it just HAS to be an ulterior one)?  Or, why don't you GET IT?"

Could it be that the one doing the asking may not "get it?"

Is there no chance the one probing the issue could "get it," as far as it goes, but it has not yet gone far enough?

I'm just asking, "Where should we be headed with all this ancient wisdom as we continue moving FORWARD?"

Avatar of: Robin Craig

Robin Craig

Posts: 1457

August 13, 2012

You are fighting an imaginary battle. Scientists aren't interested in
"proving" evolution as it there's some serious debate - it is already
proved. It is now simply a backdrop to interesting research like this,
which extends our knowledge. The only time scientists feel compelled to
defend evolution is when it is attacked by ignorant intelligent
designers who seek to undermine science education in order to prop up
outdated religious notions.

When you think about it, it is not surprising that the tops and roots of
the one tree might diverge genetically when one way the tree reproduces
is from new shoots from the roots. But I wouldn't have thought of it!

Avatar of: Guest


August 14, 2012

Either you did not read my message or you need to read it again.

You think that my welcoming of every new bit of information, and seeking more and more is what??????


What a brainwashing you got.

I'm talking about getting on with the new, not backing up a hundred years or two thousand.


Avatar of: Marianne Kaup Hopkins

Marianne Kaup Hopkins

Posts: 1457

August 14, 2012

Anyone interested in this article may also be interested in this online paper:


Avatar of: bensabio


Posts: 3

August 17, 2012

Glad to see that the link to Dr. Lolle's website was not "censored" after all, nor was my post, both of which seemed to have disappeared for a while. Also, I notice that the link to Dr. Lolle's website ("Plant A Seed") was not posted by her, but by M.K. Hopkins, who did a great service to those interested in the subject by alerting us to Lolle's pioneering (if "controversial") work. It's good to have some real and worth while scientific followups to articles instead of the lengthy lunatic rants that sometimes clutter the Comments section!

Avatar of: harnisha


Posts: 1

September 26, 2012

wow, all these years i thought it was due to cross pollination, a neem tree infront of my house bears 2 diff spcs of leaves on the same branch , i could even see the grafted-like-tissue on it....kudos to evolution

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