Agrobacterium and Sweet Potato Ecological Relationship

A friend of mine came across a fun article on a National Public Radio blog on transgenic organisms (genetic combination of two or more organisms that don’t naturally breed) cultivated for thousands of years. Scientists have found that many variations of sweet potato, now grown all over the world, have an relationship with a class of bacteria known as Agrobacterium. Similar to how viruses inject their DNA in to the infected host’s cells, these bacteria export their DNA into the sweet potato root. Dissimilar to how virus-infected cells burst with replicated new viruses, the bacterial DNA codes for two types of hormones that produce a much more swollen root than the sweet likely would produce on its own. I wonder what benefit the bacteria receives for this relationship?

bacteria and sweet potatoes
Photo courtesy of Wally Hartshorn (sweet potatoes) and Cesar Harada (bacteria).

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