Horizontal gene transfer

Horizontal gene transfer

Current tree of life showing vertical and horizontal gene transfers.

Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) refers to the transfer of

  • Horizontal gene transfer
  • Horizontal gene transfer in prokaryotes
  • Horizontal gene transfer in plants
  • Horizontal gene transfer (History)
  • Gyles, C; Boerlin, P (Mar 2014). "Horizontally transferred genetic elements and their role in pathogenesis of bacterial disease". Vet Pathol 51 (2): 328–40.  
  • – Papers by Dr Michael Syvanen on Horizontal Gene Transfer
  • Salzberg SL, White O, Peterson J, Eisen JA (June 2001). "Microbial genes in the human genome: lateral transfer or gene loss?" (PDF). Science 292 (5523): 1903–6.  
  • Qi, Z; Cui, Y; Fang, W; Ling, L; Chen, R (January 2004). "Autosomal similarity revealed by eukaryotic genomic comparison.". Journal of biological physics 30 (4): 305–12.  
  • Woese CR (June 2002). "On the evolution of cells". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 99 (13): 8742–7.   This article seeks to shift the emphasis in early phylogenic adaptation from vertical to horizontal gene transfer. He uses the term "Darwinian Threshold" for the time of major transition of evolutionary mechanisms from mostly horizontal to mostly vertical transfer, and the "origin of speciation".
  • Snel B, Bork P, Huynen MA (January 1999). "Genome phylogeny based on gene content". Nat. Genet. 21 (1): 108–10.   This article proposes using the presence or absence of a set of genes to infer phylogenies, in order to avoid confounding factors such as horizontal gene transfer.
  • Webfocus in Nature with free review articles [2]
  • Patil PB, Sonti RV (October 2004). , the bacterial leaf blight pathogen of rice"Xanthomonas oryzae pv. oryzae"Variation suggestive of horizontal gene transfer at a lipopolysaccharide (lps) biosynthetic locus in . BMC Microbiol. 4 (1): 40.  
  • Jin G, Nakhleh L, Snir S, Tuller T (November 2006). "Maximum likelihood of phylogenetic networks". Bioinformatics 22 (21): 2604–11.   for a technique to decrease the impact of HGT events on maximum likelihood cladistical analyses.
  • Horizontal Gene Transfer – A New Paradigm for Biology
  • Horizontal Gene Transfer (page 334 of Molecular Genetics by Ulrich Melcher)
  • Report on horizontal gene transfer by Mae-Wan Ho, March 22, 1999
  • Recent Evidence Confirms Risks of Horizontal Gene Transfer
  • Horizontal Gene Transfer at sciences.sdsu.edu
  • Jain R, Rivera MC, Lake JA (March 1999). "Horizontal gene transfer among genomes: The complexity hypothesis". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 96 (7): 3801–6.  
  • PDF article on Horizontal Gene Transfer
  • The New Yorker, July 12, 1999, pp. 44–61 "Smallpox knows how to make a mouse protein. How did smallpox learn that? 'The poxviruses are promiscuous at capturing genes from their hosts,' Esposito said. 'It tells you that smallpox was once inside a mouse or some other small rodent.'"
  • Szpirer C, Top E, Couturier M, Mergeay M (1 December 1999). "Retrotransfer or gene capture: a feature of conjugative plasmids, with ecological and evolutionary significance". Microbiology (Reading, Engl.) 145 (Pt 12): 3321–9.  
  • GMO Safety: Results of research into horizontal gene transfer Can transgenes from genetically modified plants be absorbed by micro-organisms and spread in this way?
  • Whitaker JW, McConkey GA, Westhead DR (2009). "The transferome of metabolic genes explored: analysis of the horizontal transfer of enzyme encoding genes in unicellular eukaryotes". Genome Biol. 10 (4): R36.  

Further reading

  1. ^ a b c d e f Gyles, C; Boerlin P (March 2014). "Horizontally transferred genetic elements and their role in pathogenesis of bacterial disease". Veterinary Pathology 51 (2): 328–340.  
  2. ^ OECD, Safety Assessment of Transgenic Organisms, Volume 4: OECD Consensus Documents, 2010, pp.171-174
  3. ^ Kay E, Vogel TM, Bertolla F, Nalin R, Simonet P (July 2002). "In situ transfer of antibiotic resistance genes from transgenic (transplastomic) tobacco plants to bacteria". Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 68 (7): 3345–51.  
  4. ^ Koonin EV, Makarova KS, Aravind L (2001). "Horizontal gene transfer in prokaryotes: quantification and classification". Annu. Rev. Microbiol. 55 (1): 709–42.  
  5. ^ Nielsen KM (1998). "Barriers to horizontal gene transfer by natural transformation in soil bacteria". APMIS Suppl. 84: 77–84.  
  6. ^ McGowan C, Fulthorpe R, Wright A, Tiedje JM (October 1998). "Evidence for interspecies gene transfer in the evolution of 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid degraders". Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 64 (10): 4089–92.  
  7. ^ a b Keen, E. C. (December 2012). "Paradigms of pathogenesis: Targeting the mobile genetic elements of disease". Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology 2: 161.  
  8. ^ Naik GA, Bhat LN, Chpoade BA, Lynch JM (1994). "Transfer of broad-host-range antibiotic resistance plasmids in soil microcosms". Curr. Microbiol. 28 (4): 209–215.  
  9. ^ Varga M, Kuntova L, Pantucek R, Maslanova I, Ruzickova V, Doskar J (2012). "Efficient transfer of antibiotic resistance plasmids by transduction within methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus USA300 clone". FEMS Microbiol. Lett. 332 (2): 146–152.  
  10. ^ Lin Edwards (October 4, 2010). "Horizontal gene transfer in microbes much more frequent than previously thought". PhysOrg.com. Retrieved 2012-01-06. 
  11. ^ Carrie Arnold (April 18, 2011). "To Share and Share Alike: Bacteria swap genes with their neighbors more frequently than researchers have realized". Scientific American. Retrieved 2012-01-06. 
  12. ^ Victor J Freeman (1951). "Corynebacterium Diphtheriae"Studies on the virulence of bacteriophage-infected strains of . Journal of Bacteriology 61 (6): 675–688.  
  13. ^ Phillip Marguilies "Epidemics: Deadly diseases throughout history". Rosen, New York. 2005.
  14. ^ André Lwoff (1965). "Interaction among Virus, Cell, and Organism". Nobel Lecture for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
  15. ^ Ochiai K, Yamanaka T, Kimura K, Sawada, O (1959). "Inheritance of drug resistance (and its transfer) between Shigella strains and Between Shigella and E. coli strains". Hihon Iji Shimpor (in Japanese) 1861: 34. 
  16. ^ Akiba T, Koyama K, Ishiki Y, Kimura S, Fukushima T (April 1960). "On the mechanism of the development of multiple-drug-resistant clones of Shigella". Jpn. J. Microbiol. 4 (2): 219–27.  
  17. ^ Syvanen M (January 1985). "Cross-species gene transfer; implications for a new theory of evolution" (PDF). J. Theor. Biol. 112 (2): 333–43.  
  18. ^ Jain R, Rivera MC, Lake JA (March 1999). "Horizontal gene transfer among genomes: The complexity hypothesis". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 96 (7): 3801–6.  
  19. ^ Rivera MC, Lake JA (September 2004). "The ring of life provides evidence for a genome fusion origin of eukaryotes" (PDF). Nature 431 (7005): 152–5.  
  20. ^ Bapteste E, Susko E, Leigh J, MacLeod D, Charlebois RL, Doolittle WF (2005). "Do orthologous gene phylogenies really support tree-thinking?". BMC Evol. Biol. 5 (1): 33.  
  21. ^ a b Mae-Wan Ho (1999). "Cauliflower Mosaic Viral Promoter – A Recipe for Disaster?" (PDF). Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease 11 (4): 194–7.  
  22. ^ Riley, DR; Sieber, KB; Robinson, KM; White, JR; Ganesan, A; et al. (2013). "Bacteria-Human Somatic Cell Lateral Gene Transfer Is Enriched in Cancer Samples". PLoS Comput Biol 9 (6): e1003107.  
  23. ^ Richardson, Aaron O.; Palmer, Jeffrey D. (January 2007). "Horizontal Gene Transfer in Plants" (PDF). Journal of Experimental Botany 58 (1): 1–9.  
  24. ^ a b Gogarten, Peter (2000). "Horizontal Gene Transfer: A New Paradigm for Biology". Esalen Center for Theory and Research Conference. Retrieved 2007-03-18. 
  25. ^ Kenneth Todar. "Bacterial Resistance to Antibiotics". The Microbial World: Lectures in Microbiology, Department of Bacteriology, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Retrieved January 6, 2012. 
  26. ^ Stanley Maloy (July 15, 2002). "Horizontal Gene Transfer". San Diego State University. Retrieved January 6, 2012. 
  27. ^ a b c d e Stearns, S. C., & Hoekstra, R. F. (2005). Evolution: An introduction (2nd ed.). Oxford, NY: Oxford Univ. Press. pp. 38-40.
  28. ^ R. Bock and V. Knoop (eds.), Genomics of Chloroplasts and Mitochondria, Advances in Photosynthesis and Respiration 35, pp. 223–235 doi:10.1007/978-94-007-2920-9_10, Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012
  29. ^ Maxmen, A. (2010). "Virus-like particles speed bacterial evolution". Nature.  
  30. ^ La Scola B, Desnues C, Pagnier I, Robert C, Barrassi L, Fournous G, Merchat M, Suzan-Monti M, Forterre P, Koonin E, Raoult D (September 2008). "The virophage as a unique parasite of the giant mimivirus". Nature 455 (7209): 100–4.  
  31. ^ Pearson H (August 2008). Virophage' suggests viruses are alive"'". Nature 454 (7205): 677.  
  32. ^ a b Bejarano,E.R., Khashoggi,A.M., Witty,M. and Lichtenstein,C.P. (1994). Discovery of ancient recombination between geminiviral DNA and the nuclear genome of Nicotiana sp. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 93:759-764.
  33. ^ Barlow M (2009). "What antimicrobial resistance has taught us about horizontal gene transfer". Methods in Molecular Biology (Clifton, N.J.). Methods in Molecular Biology 532: 397–411.  
  34. ^ Hawkey PM, Jones AM (September 2009). "The changing epidemiology of resistance".  
  35. ^ Francino, MP (editor) (2012). Horizontal Gene Transfer in Microorganisms.  
  36. ^ Strauch, Eckhard; Lurz, Rudi; Beutin, Lothar; Characterization (December 2001). "Shigella sonnei". Infection and Immunity 69 (12): 7588–7595.  
  37. ^ Ulrich Melcher (2001) "Molecular genetics: Horizontal gene transfer," Oklahoma State University (Stillwater, Oklahoma USA)
  38. ^ Blanchard JL, Lynch M (July 2000). "Organellar genes: why do they end up in the nucleus?". Trends Genet. 16 (7): 315–20.   Discusses theories on how mitochondria and chloroplast genes are transferred into the nucleus, and also what steps a gene needs to go through in order to complete this process.
  39. ^ Hall C, Brachat S, Dietrich FS (June 2005). "Saccharomyces cerevisiae"Contribution of Horizontal Gene Transfer to the Evolution of . Eukaryotic Cell 4 (6): 1102–15.  
  40. ^ Kondo N, Nikoh N, Ijichi N, Shimada M, Fukatsu T (October 2002). "Genome fragment of Wolbachia endosymbiont transferred to X chromosome of host insect". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 99 (22): 14280–5.  
  41. ^ Dunning Hotopp JC, Clark ME, Oliveira DC, et al. (September 2007). "Widespread lateral gene transfer from intracellular bacteria to multicellular eukaryotes". Science 317 (5845): 1753–6.  
  42. ^ Davis CC, Wurdack KJ (30 July 2004). "Host-to-parasite gene transfer in flowering plants: phylogenetic evidence from Malpighiales". Science 305 (5684): 676–8.  
  43. ^ Daniel L Nickrent, Albert Blarer, Yin-Long Qiu, Romina Vidal-Russell and Frank E Anderson (2004). "Phylogenetic inference in Rafflesiales: the influence of rate heterogeneity and horizontal gene transfer". BMC Evolutionary Biology 4 (1): 40.  
  44. ^ Magdalena Woloszynska, Tomasz Bocer, Pawel Mackiewicz and Hanna Janska (November 2004). "A fragment of chloroplast DNA was transferred horizontally, probably from non-eudicots, to mitochondrial genome of Phaseolus". Plant Molecular Biology 56 (5): 811–20.  
  45. ^ Yoshida, Satoko; Maruyama, Shinichiro; Nozaki, Hisayoshi; Shirasu, Ken (28 May 2010). "Horizontal gene transfer by the parasitic plant Striga hermonthica". Science 328 (5982): 1128.  
  46. ^ a b Nancy A. Moran; Tyler Jarvik (2010). "Lateral Transfer of Genes from Fungi Underlies Carotenoid Production in Aphids". Science 328 (5978): 624–627.  
  47. ^ Fukatsu T (April 2010). "Evolution. A fungal past to insect color". Science 328 (5978): 574–5.  
  48. ^ Bar D (16 February 2011). "Plasmodium vivax"Evidence of Massive Horizontal Gene Transfer Between Humans and . Nature Precedings.  
  49. ^ Redrejo-Rodríguez, M, Muñoz-Espín, D, Holguera, I, Mencía, M, Salas, M, (2012). "Functional eukaryotic nuclear localization signals are widespread in terminal proteins of bacteriophages". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 109 (45): 18482–7.  
  50. ^ Lee Phillips, Melissa (2012). "Bacterial gene helps coffee beetle get its fix". Nature.  
  51. ^ "Adaptive horizontal transfer of a bacterial gene to an invasive insect pest of coffee". PNAS 109 (11): 4197–4202. 2012.  
  52. ^ Carl Zimmer (April 17, 2014). "Plants That Practice Genetic Engineering". New York Times. 
  53. ^ "Human beings’ ancestors have routinely stolen genes from other species".  
  54. ^ Salzberg, S.L. (2001). "Microbial Genes in the Human Genome: Lateral Transfer or Gene Loss?". Science 292: 1903–6.  
  55. ^ Ivics Z., Hackett P.B., Plasterk R.H., Izsvak Z. (1997). "Molecular reconstruction of Sleeping Beauty, a Tc1-like transposon from fish, and its transposition in human cells". Cell 91 (4): 501–510.  
  56. ^ Plasterk RH (1996). "The Tc1/mariner transposon family". Curr. Top. Microbiol. Immunol. 204: 125–43.  
  57. ^ Izsvak Z., Ivics Z., Plasterk R.H. (2000). "Sleeping Beauty, a wide host-range transposon vector for genetic transformation in vertebrates". J. Mol. Biol. 302 (1): 93–102.  
  58. ^ Kurtti TJ, Mattila JT, Herron MJ, et al. (October 2008). "Transgene expression and silencing in a tick cell line: A model system for functional tick genomics". Insect Biochem. Mol. Biol. 38 (10): 963–8.  
  59. ^ Graham Lawton Why Darwin was wrong about the tree of life New Scientist Magazine issue 2692 21 January 2009 Accessed February 2009
  60. ^ Genomic analysis of Hyphomonas neptunium contradicts 16S rRNA gene-based phylogenetic analysis: implications for the taxonomy of the orders ‘Rhodobacterales’ and Caulobacteral...
  61. ^ Zhaxybayeva, O.; Gogarten, J. (2004). "Cladogenesis, coalescence and the evolution of the three domains of life". Trends in Genetics 20 (4): 182–187.  
  62. ^ a b c d e  
  63. ^ Woese CR (June 2004). "A New Biology for a New Century". Microbiol. Mol. Biol. Rev. 68 (2): 173–86.  
  64. ^ Theobald, Douglas L. (13 May 2010). "A formal test of the theory of universal common ancestry". Nature 465 (7295): 219–222.  
  65. ^ D.A. Bryant & N.-U. Frigaard (November 2006). "Prokaryotic photosynthesis and phototrophy illuminated". Trends Microbiol. 14 (11): 488–96.  
  66. ^ Avrain L, Vernozy-Rozand C, Kempf I (2004). strains in chickens"Campylobacter jejuni"Evidence for natural horizontal transfer of tetO gene between . J. Appl. Microbiol. 97 (1): 134–40.  
  67. ^ Darkened Forests, Ferns Stole Gene From an Unlikely Source — and Then From Each Other by Jennifer Frazer (May 6, 2014). Scientific American.

Sources and notes

See also

There is evidence for historical horizontal transfer of the following genes:


In a May 2010 article in Nature, Douglas Theobald[64] argued that there was indeed one Last Universal Common Ancestor to all existing life and that horizontal gene transfer has not destroyed our ability to infer this.

"What elevated common descent to doctrinal status almost certainly was the much later discovery of the universality of biochemistry, which was seemingly impossible to explain otherwise. But that was before horizontal gene transfer (HGT), which could offer an alternative explanation for the universality of biochemistry, was recognized as a major part of the evolutionary dynamic. In questioning the doctrine of common descent, one necessarily questions the universal phylogenetic tree. That compelling tree image resides deep in our representation of biology. But the tree is no more than a graphical device; it is not some a priori form that nature imposes upon the evolutionary process. It is not a matter of whether your data are consistent with a tree, but whether tree topology is a useful way to represent your data. Ordinarily it is, of course, but the universal tree is no ordinary tree, and its root no ordinary root. Under conditions of extreme HGT, there is no (organismal) "tree." Evolution is basically reticulate."[63]

With regard to how horizontal gene transfer affects evolutionary theory (common descent, universal phylogenetic tree) Carl Woese says:

"As Woese has written, 'the ancestor cannot have been a particular organism, a single organismal lineage. It was communal, a loosely knit, diverse conglomeration of primitive cells that evolved as a unit, and it eventually developed to a stage where it broke into several distinct communities, which in their turn became the three primary lines of descent (bacteria, archaea and eukaryotes)' In other words, early cells, each having relatively few genes, differed in many ways. By swapping genes freely, they shared various of their talents with their contemporaries. Eventually this collection of eclectic and changeable cells coalesced into the three basic domains known today. These domains become recognisable because much (though by no means all) of the gene transfer that occurs these days goes on within domains."[62]
"If there had never been any lateral gene transfer, all these individual gene trees would have the same topology (the same branching order), and the ancestral genes at the root of each tree would have all been present in the last universal common ancestor, a single ancient cell. But extensive transfer means that neither is the case: gene trees will differ (although many will have regions of similar topology) and there would never have been a single cell that could be called the last universal common ancestor.[62]

The article continues with:

"The weight of evidence still supports the likelihood that mitochondria in eukaryotes derived from alpha-proteobacterial cells and that chloroplasts came from ingested cyanobacteria, but it is no longer safe to assume that those were the only lateral gene transfers that occurred after the first eukaryotes arose. Only in later, multicellular eukaryotes do we know of definite restrictions on horizontal gene exchange, such as the advent of separated (and protected) germ cells."[62]

Again on p. 76, the article continues with:

[62] by W. Uprooting the Tree of Life

Scientific American article (2000)

Using single genes as [61]

Biologist Johann Peter Gogarten suggests "the original metaphor of a tree no longer fits the data from recent genome research" therefore "biologists should use the metaphor of a mosaic to describe the different histories combined in individual genomes and use the metaphor of a net to visualize the rich exchange and cooperative effects of HGT among microbes."[24] There exist several methods to infer such phylogenetic networks.

For example, the most common gene to be used for constructing phylogenetic relationships in prokaryotes is the 16s rRNA gene since its sequences tend to be conserved among members with close phylogenetic distances, but variable enough that differences can be measured. However, in recent years it has also been argued that 16s rRNA genes can also be horizontally transferred. Although this may be infrequent the validity of 16s rRNA-constructed phylogenetic trees must be reevaluated.[60]

Horizontal gene transfer is a potential confounding factor in inferring phylogenetic trees based on the sequence of one gene.[59] For example, given two distantly related bacteria that have exchanged a gene a phylogenetic tree including those species will show them to be closely related because that gene is the same even though most other genes are dissimilar. For this reason it is often ideal to use other information to infer robust phylogenies such as the presence or absence of genes or, more commonly, to include as wide a range of genes for phylogenetic analysis as possible.

Importance in evolution

Genetic engineering is essentially horizontal gene transfer, albeit with synthetic expression cassettes. The Sleeping Beauty transposon system[55] (SB) was developed as a synthetic gene transfer agent that was based on the known abilities of Tc1/mariner transposons to invade genomes of extremely diverse species.[56] The SB system has been used to introduce genetic sequences into a wide variety of animal genomes.[57][58]

Before it is transformed a bacterium is susceptible to antibiotics. A plasmid can be inserted when the bacteria is under stress, and be incorporated into the bacterial DNA creating antibiotic resistance. When the plasmids are prepared they are inserted into the bacterial cell by either making pores in the plasma membrane with temperature extremes and chemical treatments, or making it semi permeable through the process of electrophoresis, in which electric currents create the holes in the membrane. After conditions return to normal the holes in the membrane close and the plasmids are trapped inside the bacteria where they become part of the genetic material and their genes are expressed by the bacteria.

Artificial horizontal gene transfer

Update: Genome Biol. 2015 Mar 13;16(1):50. doi: 10.1186/s13059-015-0607-3. Expression of multiple horizontally acquired genes is a hallmark of both vertebrate and invertebrate genomes. Crisp A, Boschetti C, Perry M, Tunnacliffe A, Micklem G. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25785303

  • Analysis of DNA sequences suggests that horizontal gene transfer has occurred within eukaryotes from the chloroplast and mitochondrial genomes to the nuclear genome. As stated in the endosymbiotic theory, chloroplasts and mitochondria probably originated as bacterial endosymbionts of a progenitor to the eukaryotic cell.[38]
  • Horizontal transfer occurs from bacteria to some fungi, especially the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae.[39]
  • The adzuki bean beetle has acquired genetic material from its (non-beneficial) endosymbiont Wolbachia.[40] New examples have recently been reported demonstrating that Wolbachia bacteria represent an important potential source of genetic material in arthropods and filarial nematodes.[41]
  • Mitochondrial genes moved to parasites of the Rafflesiaceae plant family from their hosts [42][43] and from chloroplasts of a not-yet-identified plant to the mitochondria of the bean Phaseolus.[44]
  • The gene is of unknown functionality. [45]
  • [46]
  • The malaria pathogen Plasmodium vivax acquired genetic material from humans that might help facilitate its long stay in the body.[48]
  • A bacteriophage-mediated mechanism transfers genes between prokaryotes and eukaryotes. Nuclear localization signals in bacteriophage terminal proteins (TP) prime DNA replication and become covalently linked to the viral genome. The role of virus and bacteriophages in HGT in bacteria, suggests that TP-containing genomes could be a vehicle of inter-kingdom genetic information transference all throughout evolution.[49]
  • HhMAN1 is a gene in the genome of the coffee borer beetle (Hypothenemus hampei) that resembles bacterial genes, and is thought to be transferred from bacteria in the beetle's gut.[50][51]
  • A gene that allowed ferns to survive in dark forests came from the hornwort, which grows in mats on streambanks or trees. The neochrome gene arrived about 180 million years ago.[52]
  • Plants are capable of receiving genetic information from viruses by horizontal gene transfer.[32]
  • One study identified approximately 100 of humans' approximately 20,000 total genes which likely resulted from horizontal gene transfer,[53] but this number has been challenged by several researchers arguing these candidate genes for HGT are more likely the result of gene loss combined with differences in the rate of evolution [54]

"Sequence comparisons suggest recent horizontal transfer of many genes among diverse species including across the boundaries of phylogenetic 'domains'. Thus determining the phylogenetic history of a species can not be done conclusively by determining evolutionary trees for single genes".[37]


Horizontal gene transfer is common among bacteria, even among very distantly related ones. This process is thought to be a significant cause of increased drug resistance[1][33] when one bacterial cell acquires resistance, and the resistance genes are transferred to other species.[34][35] Transposition and horizontal gene transfer, along with strong natural selective forces have led to multi-drug resistant strains of S. aureus and many other pathogenic bacteria.[27] Horizontal gene transfer also plays a role in the spread of virulence factors, such as exotoxins and exoenzymes, amongst bacteria.[1] A prime example concerning the spread of exotoxins is the adaptive evolution of Shiga toxins in E. coli through horizontal gene transfer via transduction with Shigella species of bacteria.[36] Strategies to combat certain bacterial infections by targeting these specific virulence factors and mobile genetic elements have been proposed.[7] For example, horizontally transferred genetic elements play important roles in the virulence of E. coli, Salmonella, Streptococcus and Clostridium perfringens.[1]


The virus called Mimivirus infects amoebae. Another virus, called Sputnik, also infects amoebae, but it cannot reproduce unless mimivirus has already infected the same cell.[30] "Sputnik’s genome reveals further insight into its biology. Although 13 of its genes show little similarity to any other known genes, three are closely related to mimivirus and mamavirus genes, perhaps cannibalized by the tiny virus as it packaged up particles sometime in its history. This suggests that the satellite virus could perform horizontal gene transfer between viruses, paralleling the way that bacteriophages ferry genes between bacteria.".[31] Horizontal transfer is also seen between geminiviruses and tobacco plants.[32]


Horizontal gene transfer is typically inferred using bioinformatic methods, either by identifying atypical sequence signatures ("parametric" methods) or by identifying strong discrepancies between the evolutionary history of particular sequences compared to that of their hosts.


A transposon (jumping gene) is a mobile segment of DNA that can sometimes pick up a resistance gene and insert it into a plasmid or chromosome, thereby inducing horizontal gene transfer of antibiotic resistance.[27]

  • Transformation, the genetic alteration of a cell resulting from the introduction, uptake and expression of foreign genetic material (DNA or RNA).[27] This process is relatively common in bacteria, but less so in eukaryotes.[28] Transformation is often used in laboratories to insert novel genes into bacteria for experiments or for industrial or medical applications. See also molecular biology and biotechnology.
  • Transduction, the process in which bacterial DNA is moved from one bacterium to another by a virus (a bacteriophage, or phage).[27]
  • Bacterial conjugation, a process that involves the transfer of DNA via a plasmid from a donor cell to a recombinant recipient cell during cell-to-cell contact.[27]
  • Gene transfer agents, virus-like elements encoded by the host that are found in the alphaproteobacteria order Rhodobacterales.[29]

There are several mechanisms for horizontal gene transfer:[1][25][26]


Some have argued that the process may be a hidden hazard of genetic engineering as it could allow transgenic DNA to spread from species to species.[21]

Due to the increasing amount of evidence suggesting the importance of these phenomena for evolution (see below) molecular biologists such as Peter Gogarten have described horizontal gene transfer as "A New Paradigm for Biology".[24]

Richardson and Palmer (2007) state: "Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) has played a major role in bacterial evolution and is fairly common in certain unicellular eukaryotes. However, the prevalence and importance of HGT in the evolution of multicellular eukaryotes remain unclear."[23]

There is some evidence that even higher plants and animals have been affected and this has raised concerns for safety.[21] It has been suggested that lateral gene transfer to humans from bacteria may play a role in cancer.[22]

As Jain, Rivera and Lake (1999) put it: "Increasingly, studies of genes and genomes are indicating that considerable horizontal transfer has occurred between prokaryotes"[18] (see also Lake and Rivera, 2007).[19] The phenomenon appears to have had some significance for unicellular eukaryotes as well. As Bapteste et al. (2005) observe, "additional evidence suggests that gene transfer might also be an important evolutionary mechanism in protist evolution."[20]

Horizontal gene transfer was first described in Seattle in 1951 in a publication which demonstrated that the transfer of a viral gene into Corynebacterium diphtheriae created a virulent from a non-virulent strain,[12] also simultaneously solving the riddle of diphtheria (that patients could be infected with the bacteria but not have any symptoms, and then suddenly convert later or never),[13] and giving the first example for the relevance of the lysogenic cycle.[14] Inter-bacterial gene transfer was first described in Japan in a 1959 publication that demonstrated the transfer of antibiotic resistance between different species of bacteria.[15][16] In the mid-1980s, Syvanen[17] predicted that lateral gene transfer existed, had biological significance, and was involved in shaping evolutionary history from the beginning of life on Earth.



  • History 1
  • Mechanism 2
  • Inference 3
  • Viruses 4
  • Prokaryotes 5
  • Eukaryotes 6
  • Artificial horizontal gene transfer 7
  • Importance in evolution 8
  • See also 9
  • Sources and notes 10
  • Further reading 11

Artificial horizontal gene transfer is a form of genetic engineering.

[11][10] Most thinking in

Horizontal gene transfer is the primary reason for bacterial antibiotic resistance,[1][2][3][4][5] and plays an important role in the evolution of bacteria that can degrade novel compounds such as human-created pesticides[6] and in the evolution, maintenance, and transmission of virulence.[7] This horizontal gene transfer often involves temperate bacteriophages and plasmids.[8][9] Genes that are responsible for antibiotic resistance in one species of bacteria can be transferred to another species of bacteria through various mechanisms (e.g., via F-pilus), subsequently arming the antibiotic resistant genes' recipient against antibiotics, which is becoming a medical challenge to deal with.