How strange then is the recent report that different parts of the same tree have different DNA sequences!
Ed Yong, reporting from the Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting , tells of the results from the laboratory of Brett Olds, where they determined the DNA sequence from different parts of the same black cottonwood. They found differences in thousands of genes between the topmost bud, the lowermost branch, and the roots.
As Olds told Yong, “This could change the classic paradigm that evolution only happens in a population rather than at an individual level.”
The differences in the DNA sequences between the branches could conceivably lead to advantageous characteristics. Perhaps different branches of the same tree compete with one another for light, nutrients and pollinators, and this competition leads to Darwinian selection, whereby the most fit branches out-compete their neighboring branches. The differences in DNA sequence would then be more likely carried on in the next generation by the branches that produced more or heartier seeds.
Of course the caveat is that this is a blog reporting on a report of a report. i can't wait to see the research article, and for this paradigm to be tested by additional labs using other tree species. If it holds up, we'll have to rewrite some of our textbooks!