Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Woodrats' genes help them to win arms race against food

Date:
August 15, 2014
Source:
BioMed Central
Summary:
A handful of genes arm the woodrat against the toxic chemicals in its foodstuff, the creosote plant, according to research. It's long been a mystery exactly how the woodrat developed the ability to handle the chemicals in the creosote plant, which are toxic to other rodents. The new study identifies the genes switched on in two species of woodrat with resistance to the plant poisons, showing that the genes that they are born with play a central role in whether they feel the effects of its toxic chemicals.

A handful of genes arm the woodrat against the toxic chemicals in its foodstuff, the creosote plant, according to research published in the open access journal BMC Ecology.

Related Articles


It's long been a mystery exactly how the woodrat developed the ability to handle the chemicals in the creosote plant, which are toxic to other rodents. Previous research has suggested that they are protected by factors such as gut bacteria. But the new study identifies the genes switched on in two species of woodrat with resistance to the plant poisons, showing that the genes that they are born with play a central role in whether they feel the effects of its toxic chemicals.

Creosote bushes and the woodrat have been in an evolutionary arms race, ever since the bush started colonizing the deserts of the western USA, where the rat lives. To save itself from being eaten, the plant's leaves are covered with a toxic resin containing the chemical nordihydroguaiaretic acid (NDGA). Most rodents' livers and kidneys are ravaged by the substance, but woodrats detoxify the substance so they can eat creosote plants as a normal part of their diet. Being able to withstand the creosote bush's resin gives them exclusive access to the valuable food source in an area with little plant life.

Two closely related species of woodrat have switched over from juniper and cactus to creosote at different times -- the Neotoma bryanti woodrat was first in contact with creosote bush 7,000 years before the Neotoma lepida woodrat.

Scientists from University of Utah and Weber State University have investigated the gene expression in N. bryanti and N. lepida to see what enzymes the species produced in reaction to the plant resin. They looked at three groups -- 'experienced' N.bryanti and N.lepida that had been exposed to creosote in the wild, and 'naive' N.bryanti, a population of woodrats for whom creosote was a new addition to their diet.

They found that when woodrats had been exposed to the creosote bush in the wild, a small number of similar genes were switched on by both species to detoxify the plant, despite having evolved the mechanisms at completely different times.

Jael Malenke from the University of Utah says: "We were surprised by how few genes were induced by woodrats of both species when they were consuming a toxin-laced diet. We expected a huge list of genes -- instead we found very few."

When the creosote was a new addition to the diet of individual N.bryanti woodrats, they had different reactions. They exhibited signs of severe stress, showing that because they hadn't been exposed to the diet, the genes to detoxify it hadn't been switched on.

Dr Malenke says: "For N. bryanti but not for N. lepida, there appears to be a hidden strategy of maintaining expression of exactly the right combination of enzymes to suit the animal's 'normal' diet and not altering that expression, even with a change in diet. Although very efficient, this strategy might be a disadvantage, say, in the face of a climate change event."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by BioMed Central. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Jael R Malenke, Michele M Skopec, M Denise Dearing. Evidence for functional convergence in genes upregulated by herbivores ingesting plant secondary compounds. BMC Ecology, 2014; 14 (1): 23 DOI: 10.1186/1472-6785-14-23

Cite This Page:

BioMed Central. "Woodrats' genes help them to win arms race against food." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 August 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140815102324.htm>.
BioMed Central. (2014, August 15). Woodrats' genes help them to win arms race against food. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140815102324.htm
BioMed Central. "Woodrats' genes help them to win arms race against food." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140815102324.htm (accessed December 18, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Dec. 18, 2014) The U.S. Navy unveils an underwater device that mimics the movement of a fish. Tara Cleary reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Kids Die While Under Protective Services

Kids Die While Under Protective Services

AP (Dec. 18, 2014) As part of a six-month investigation of child maltreatment deaths, the AP found that hundreds of deaths from horrific abuse and neglect could have been prevented. AP's Haven Daley reports. (Dec. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
When You Lose Weight, This Is Where The Fat Goes

When You Lose Weight, This Is Where The Fat Goes

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) Can fat disappear into thin air? New research finds that during weight loss, over 80 percent of a person's fat molecules escape through the lungs. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Hottest Food Trends for 2015

The Hottest Food Trends for 2015

Buzz60 (Dec. 17, 2014) Urbanspoon predicts whicg food trends will dominate the culinary scene in 2015. Mara Montalbano (@maramontalbano) has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins