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Front Microbiol. 2011 Jul 26;2:158. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2011.00158. eCollection 2011.

Horizontal gene exchange in environmental microbiota.

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Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health, University of Aberdeen Aberdeen, UK.


Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) plays an important role in the evolution of life on the Earth. This view is supported by numerous occasions of HGT that are recorded in the genomes of all three domains of living organisms. HGT-mediated rapid evolution is especially noticeable among the Bacteria, which demonstrate formidable adaptability in the face of recent environmental changes imposed by human activities, such as the use of antibiotics, industrial contamination, and intensive agriculture. At the heart of the HGT-driven bacterial evolution and adaptation are highly sophisticated natural genetic engineering tools in the form of a variety of mobile genetic elements (MGEs). The main aim of this review is to give a brief account of the occurrence and diversity of MGEs in natural ecosystems and of the environmental factors that may affect MGE-mediated HGT.


aquatic ecosystems; biofilm; gut; horizontal gene transfer; soil

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