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Mol Microbiol. 2003 Nov;50(3):739-49.

Lateral gene transfer: when will adolescence end?

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Pittsburgh Bacteriophage Institute and Department of Biological Sciences, 352 Crawford Hall, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, USA.


The scope and impact of horizontal gene transfer (HGT) in Bacteria and Archaea has grown from a topic largely ignored by the microbiological community to a hot-button issue gaining staunch supporters (on particular points of view) at a seemingly ever-increasing rate. Opinions range from HGT being a phenomenon with minor impact on overall microbial evolution and diversification to HGT being so rampant as to obfuscate any opportunities for elucidating microbial evolution - especially organismal phylogeny - from sequence comparisons. This contentious issue has been fuelled by the influx of complete genome sequences, which has allowed for a more detailed examination of this question than previously afforded. We propose that the lack of common ground upon which to formulate consensus viewpoints probably stems from the absence of answers to four critical questions. If addressed, they could clarify concepts, reject tenuous speculation and solidify a robust foundation for the integration of HGT into a framework for long-term microbial evolution, regardless of the intellectual camp in which you reside. Here, we examine these issues, why their answers shape the outcome of this debate and the progress being made to address them.

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