The Selfish Plant 5 – Selfish Genes in Plants

Genes As Parasites?

Yikes, has it really been over 40 years since the publication of The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins?

Indeed it has! (Please see Ref. 1 below.)

This landmark book was very controversial when it was first published because it depicted biological organisms basically as “vehicles” for the transmission of genes. It also popularized the notion that some genes are “parasitic” or “selfish”.

Today we refer to such genes as “selfish genetic elements” (SGE’s) or selfish DNA.

Some examples of SGEs is plants include transposable elements (TE) and cytoplasmic male sterility.

Since I’m not a geneticist, I’m certainly out of my depth talking about this subject. But my decision to include “selfish genes” in my series on “The Selfish Plant” was due mainly to a recent article entitled “How Selfish Genes Cause Male Sterility in Flowering Plants”. This study involved Mimulus guttatus (a.k.a., monkeyflower plant), which I often observed in some of Yellowstone Park’s surface geothermal areas in a previous life.

Anyway, I’ll refer you to this study and Reference #2 below if you’d like to delve into this subject….


1. Ridley, M. (2016) “In retrospect: The selfish gene.” Nature, Vol. 529, pp. 462–463. (Full Text)

2. Werren, J. H. (2011) “Selfish genetic elements, genetic conflict, and evolutionary innovation.” PNAS, Vol. 108, pp. 10863–10870. (Full Text)

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