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Curr Microbiol. 2012 Nov;65(5):639-42. Epub 2012 Aug 15.

Codon usage methods for horizontal gene transfer detection generate an abundance of false positive and false negative results.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208, USA.


Bacteria acquire new DNA in a process known as horizontal gene transfer (HGT). To investigate the evolutionary impact of this transfer of DNA, various methods have been developed to detect past HGT events. For example, codon usage-based methods detect the presence of transferred genes by identifying atypical patterns of codon usage. However, some inherited genes exhibit atypical codon usage and some transferred genes have codon usage patterns similar to those of the inherited genes. In this study, we used a comparative phylogenetic approach with Methylobacterium and Caulobacter species to demonstrate that even well-designed codon usage methods fail to detect many HGT events and generate a high rate of false positives (60-75 %) and false negatives (23-61 %). Therefore, we recommend caution when employing codon usage methods to identify transferred genes and suggest that the rapidly increasing availability of bacterial genome sequences makes the phylogenetic approach the method of choice.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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