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Theor Popul Biol. 2002 Jun;61(4):489-95.

Horizontal gene transfer in microbial genome evolution.

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Molecular Biology Institute, University of Californnia, Los Angeles 90095, USA.


Horizontal gene transfer is the collective name for processes that permit the exchange of DNA among organisms of different species. Only recently has it been recognized as a significant contribution to inter-organismal gene exchange. Traditionally, it was thought that microorganisms evolved clonally, passing genes from mother to daughter cells with little or no exchange of DNA among diverse species. Studies of microbial genomes, however, have shown that genomes contain genes that are closely related to a number of different prokaryotes, sometimes to phylogenetically very distantly related ones. (Doolittle et al., 1990, J. Mol. Evol. 31, 383-388; Karlin et al., 1997, J. Bacteriol. 179, 3899-3913; Karlin et al., 1998, Annu. Rev. Genet. 32, 185-225; Lawrence and Ochman, 1998, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 95, 9413-9417; Rivera et al., 1998, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 95, 6239-6244; Campbell, 2000, Theor. Popul. Biol. 57 71-77; Doolittle, 2000, Sci. Am. 282, 90-95; Ochman and Jones, 2000, Embo. J. 19, 6637-6643; Boucher et al. 2001, Curr. Opin., Microbiol. 4, 285-289; Wang et al., 2001, Mol. Biol. Evol. 18, 792-800). Whereas prokaryotic and eukaryotic evolution was once reconstructed from a single 16S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) gene, the analysis of complete genomes is beginning to yield a different picture of microbial evolution, one that is wrought with the lateral movement of genes across vast phylogenetic distances. (Lane et al., 1988, Methods Enzymol. 167, 138-144; Lake and Rivera, 1996, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 91, 2880-2881; Lake et al., 1999, Science 283, 2027-2028).

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