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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Jul 22;105(29):10039-44. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0800679105. Epub 2008 Jul 16.

Modular networks and cumulative impact of lateral transfer in prokaryote genome evolution.

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Institut für Botanik III, Heinrich-Heine Universität Düsseldorf, Universitätsstrasse 1, 40225 Düsseldorf, Germany.


Lateral gene transfer is an important mechanism of natural variation among prokaryotes, but the significance of its quantitative contribution to genome evolution is debated. Here, we report networks that capture both vertical and lateral components of evolutionary history among 539,723 genes distributed across 181 sequenced prokaryotic genomes. Partitioning of these networks by an eigenspectrum analysis identifies community structure in prokaryotic gene-sharing networks, the modules of which do not correspond to a strictly hierarchical prokaryotic classification. Our results indicate that, on average, at least 81 +/- 15% of the genes in each genome studied were involved in lateral gene transfer at some point in their history, even though they can be vertically inherited after acquisition, uncovering a substantial cumulative effect of lateral gene transfer on longer evolutionary time scales.

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