Chloroplasts, the plant cell’s green solar power generators, were once living beings in their own right. This changed about one billion years ago, when they were swallowed up but not digested by larger cells. Since then, they have lost much of their autonomy. As time went on, most of their genetic information found its way into the cell nucleus; today, chloroplasts would no longer be able to live outside their host cell.
Since the transfer of genes into the cell nucleus is an extremely slow evolutionary process, which has taken nature millions of years, it has not been possible to investigate the underlying mechanism to date. However, researchers have now managed to fast-forward this gene transfer in the laboratory. Because the cells were subjected to high selection pressure, the transference of genes from the chloroplasts into the nucleus became essential for survival, so that it could be made readily visible. It was found that the transfer takes place without the involvement of RNA and that the DNA apparently jumps directly from the cell’s chloroplasts into its nucleus.