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How Do Hybrid Species Overcome Genome Shock?

cotton

The cotton used to make our clothes comes from a hybrid species. Credit: zhuda/iStockphoto

By Murray Cox

How do hybrid species like cotton and ligers combine different genes, proteins and chromosomes, and can this knowledge be exploited for agriculture?

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While individuals from one species usually cannot cross with members of a different species, these crosses do sometimes occur, including well-known examples such as mules (the offspring of donkeys and horses) and ligers (the offspring of lions and tigers).

While mules and ligers are relatively uncommon, other hybrid species are all around us. The cotton used to make our clothes comes from a hybrid species, as does the wheat in our bread. Hybrid species are also very common among the native plants of New Zealand and Australia, including several Eucalyptus species.

A major unanswered question in biology is how these hybrids arise, persist and thrive. Species are always competing. They can only survive by being extremely well adapted to their environment, and this is also true for the complex molecular machinery found in their cells. Like racing cars, species need a finely tuned engine to compete.

Most individuals inherit this well adapted molecular machinery...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.