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Methods Mol Biol. 2009;532:435-53. doi: 10.1007/978-1-60327-853-9_25.

Horizontal gene transfer and mobile genetic elements in marine systems.

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Georgia Institute of Technology, School of Biology, Atlanta, GA, USA.


The pool of mobile genetic elements (MGE) in microbial communities consists of viruses, plasmids, and associated elements (insertion sequences, transposons, and integrons) that are either self-transmissible or use mobile plasmids and viruses as vehicles for their dissemination. This mobilome facilitates the horizontal transfer of genes that promote the evolution and adaptation of microbial communities. Efforts to characterize MGEs from microbial populations resident in a variety of ecological habitats have revealed a surprisingly novel and seemingly untapped biodiversity. To better understand the impact of horizontal gene transfer (HGT), as well as the agents that promote HGT in marine ecosystems and to determine whether or not environmental parameters can effect the composition and structure of the mobilome in marine microbial communities, information on the distribution, diversity, and ecological traits of the marine mobilome is presented. In this chapter we discuss recent insights gained from different methodological approaches used to characterize the biodiversity and ecology of MGE in marine environments and their contributions to HGT. In addition, we present case studies that highlight specific HGT examples in coastal, open-ocean, and deep-sea marine ecosystems.

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