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Bits of bacterial DNA naturally lurk inside sweet potatoes

Long-ago hitchhiker comes from same genus used today to make genetically modified foods

By
3:00pm, April 20, 2015
sweet potatoes

NATURALLY GMO  Many kinds of cultivated sweet potatoes show the crop grew its own genetic engineering without human help.

Sweet potatoes farmed worldwide picked up a bit of genetic engineering — without human help.

Samples collected from 291 cultivated sweet potatoes carry at least one stretch of DNA from Agrobacterium, says plant molecular biologist Godelieve Gheysen of Ghent University in Belgium. The Agrobacterium genus includes the main bacterial species that makes intentionally transgenic plants possible. It allows geneticists to hitch desired genes to a bacterial delivery service and patch them into a plant’s normal DNA.

None of the bacterial DNA fragments found in sweet potatoes match DNA used to create today’s genetically modified crops. The fragments come from some extinct or not yet discovered relative in the same genus, Gheysen and colleagues report April 20 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. One stretch of bacterial DNA in particular shows up in

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