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J Mol Microbiol Biotechnol. 1999 Aug;1(1):45-50.

Microbial gene transfer: an ecological perspective.

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Department of Marine Science, University of South Florida, St. Petersburg 33701, USA.


Microbial gene transfer or microbial sex is a means of exchanging loci amongst prokaryotes and certain eukaryotes. Historically viewed as a laboratory artifact, recent evidence from natural populations as well as genome research has indicated that this process may be a major driving force in microbial evolution. Studies with natural populations have taken two approaches- either adding a defined donor with a traceable gene to an indigenous community, and detecting the target gene in the indigenous bacteria, or by adding a model recipient to capture genes being transferred from the ambient microbial flora. However, both approaches usually require some cultivation of the recipient, which may result in a dramatic underestimation of the ambient transfer frequency. Novel methods are just evolving to study in situ gene transfer processes, including the use of green fluorescent protein (GFP)-marked plasmids, which enable detection of transferrants by epifluorescence microscopy. A transduction-like mechanism of transfer from viral-like particles produced by marine bacteria and thermal spring bacteria to Escherichia coil has been documented recently, indicating that broad host range transduction may be occurring in aquatic environments. The sequencing of complete microbial genomes has shown that they are a mosaic of ancestral chromosomal genes interspersed with recently transferred operons that encode peripheral functions. Archaeal genomes indicate that the genes for replication, transcription, and translation are all eukaryotic in complexity, while the genes for intermediary metabolism are purely bacterial. And in eukaryotes, many ancestral eukaryotic genes have been replaced by bacterial genes believed derived from food sources. Collectively these results indicate that microbial sex can result in the dispersal of loci in contemporary microbial populations as well as having shaped the phylogenies of microbes from multiple, very early gene transfer events.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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