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Mol Biol Evol. 2001 Mar;18(3):404-12.

Codon bias and base composition are poor indicators of horizontally transferred genes.

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Department of Biology, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.


Horizontal gene transfer is now recognized as an important mechanism of evolution. Several methods to detect horizontally transferred genes have been suggested. These methods are based on either nucleotide composition or the failure to find a similar gene in closely related species. Genes that evolve vertically between closely related species can be divided into those that retain homologous chromosomal positions (positional orthologs) and those that do not. By comparing open reading frames in the Escherichia coli and Salmonella typhi genomes, we identified 2,728 positional orthologs since these species split 100 MYA. A group of 1,144 novel E. coli genes were unusually diverged from their S. typhi counterparts. These novel genes included those that had been horizontally transferred into E. coli, as well as members of gene pairs that had been rearranged or deleted. Positional orthologs were used to investigate compositional methods of identifying horizontally transferred genes. A large number of E. coli genes with normal nucleotide composition have no apparent ortholog in S. typhi, and many genes of atypical composition do, in fact, have positional orthologs. A phylogenetic approach was employed to confirm selected examples of horizontal transmission among the novel groups of genes. Our analysis of 80 E. coli genes determined that a number of genes previously classified as horizontally transferred based on base composition and codon bias were native, and genes previously classified as native appeared to be horizontally transferred. Hence, atypical nucleotide composition alone is not a reliable indicator of horizontal transmission.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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