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Nature. 2001 Jun 21;411(6840):940-4.

Phylogenetic analyses do not support horizontal gene transfers from bacteria to vertebrates.

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Bioinformatics, GlaxoSmithKline, Collegeville, PA 19426, USA.


Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) has long been recognized as a principal force in the evolution of genomes. Genome sequences of Archaea and Bacteria have revealed the existence of genes whose similarity to loci in distantly related organisms is explained most parsimoniously by HGT events. In most multicellular organisms, such genetic fixation can occur only in the germ line. Therefore, it is notable that the publication of the human genome reports 113 incidents of direct HGT between bacteria and vertebrates, without any apparent occurrence in evolutionary intermediates, that is, non-vertebrate eukaryotes. Phylogenetic analysis arguably provides the most objective approach for determining the occurrence and directionality of HGT. Here we report a phylogenetic analysis of 28 proposed HGT genes, whose presence in the human genome had been confirmed by polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The results indicate that most putative HGT genes are present in more anciently derived eukaryotes (many such sequences available in non-vertebrate EST databases) and can be explained in terms of descent through common ancestry. They are, therefore, unlikely to be examples of direct HGT from bacteria to vertebrates.

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