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PLoS Genet. 2013;9(10):e1003877. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1003877. Epub 2013 Oct 17.

A review of bacteria-animal lateral gene transfer may inform our understanding of diseases like cancer.

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Institute for Genome Sciences, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, United States of America.


Lateral gene transfer (LGT) from bacteria to animals occurs more frequently than was appreciated prior to the advent of genome sequencing. In 2007, LGT from bacterial Wolbachia endosymbionts was detected in ~33% of the sequenced arthropod genomes using a bioinformatic approach. Today, Wolbachia/host LGT is thought to be widespread and many other cases of bacteria-animal LGT have been described. In insects, LGT may be more frequently associated with endosymbionts that colonize germ cells and germ stem cells, like Wolbachia endosymbionts. We speculate that LGT may occur from bacteria to a wide variety of eukaryotes, but only becomes vertically inherited when it occurs in germ cells. As such, LGT may happen routinely in somatic cells but never become inherited or fixed in the population. Lack of inheritance of such mutations greatly decreases our ability to detect them. In this review, we propose that such noninherited bacterial DNA integration into chromosomes in human somatic cells could induce mutations leading to cancer or autoimmune diseases in a manner analogous to mobile elements and viral integrations.

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