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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Mar 13;104(11):4489-94. Epub 2007 Mar 7.

Global extent of horizontal gene transfer.

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Physical Biosciences Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Department of Chemistry, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.


Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) is thought to play an important role in the evolution of species and innovation of genomes. There have been many convincing evidences for HGT for specific genes or gene families, but there has been no estimate of the global extent of HGT. Here, we present a method of identifying HGT events within a given protein family and estimate the global extent of HGT in all curated protein domain families ( approximately 8,000) listed in the Pfam database. The results suggest four conclusions: (i) for all protein domain families in Pfam, the fixation of genes horizontally transferred is not a rampant phenomenon between organisms with substantial phylogenetic separations (1.1-9.7% of Pfam families surveyed at three taxonomic ranges studied show indication of HGT); (ii) however, at the level of domains, >50% of Archaea have one or more protein domains acquired by HGT, and nearly 30-50% of Bacteria did the same when examined at three taxonomic ranges. But, the equivalent value for Eukarya is <10%; (iii) HGT will have very little impact in the construction of organism phylogeny, when the construction methods use whole genomes, large numbers of common genes, or SSU rRNAs; and (iv) there appears to be no strong preference of HGT for protein families of particular cellular or molecular functions.

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