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Proc Biol Sci. 2016 Dec 28;283(1845). pii: 20161712. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2016.1712.

Transcriptional regulation of a horizontally transferred gene from bacterium to chordate.

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Shimoda Marine Research Center, University of Tsukuba, Shimoda, Shizuoka 415-0025, Japan
Shimoda Marine Research Center, University of Tsukuba, Shimoda, Shizuoka 415-0025, Japan.
The Institute of Medical Sciences, University of Tokyo, Tokyo 108-8639, Japan.
Department of Biological Sciences, Graduate School of Science and Engineering, Tokyo Metropolitan University, 1-1 Minamiohsawa, Hachioji, Tokyo 192-0397, Japan.
Department of Mathematical and Life Sciences, Graduate School of Science, Hiroshima University, 1-3-1 Kagamiyama, Higashi-Hiroshima, Hiroshima 739-8526, Japan.
Department of Applied Science, Kochi University, 2-5-1, Akebono-cho, Kochi-shi, Kochi 780-8520, Japan.


The horizontal transfer of genes between distantly related organisms is undoubtedly a major factor in the evolution of novel traits. Because genes are functionless without expression, horizontally transferred genes must acquire appropriate transcriptional regulations in their recipient organisms, although the evolutionary mechanism is not known well. The defining characteristic of tunicates is the presence of a cellulose containing tunic covering the adult and larval body surface. Cellulose synthase was acquired by horizontal gene transfer from Actinobacteria. We found that acquisition of the binding site of AP-2 transcription factor was essential for tunicate cellulose synthase to gain epidermal-specific expression. Actinobacteria have very GC-rich genomes, regions of which are capable of inducing specific expression in the tunicate epidermis as the AP-2 binds to a GC-rich region. Therefore, the actinobacterial cellulose synthase could have been potentiated to evolve its new function in the ancestor of tunicates with a higher probability than the evolution depending solely on a spontaneous event.


AP-2; Ciona intestinalis; cellulose; horizontal gene transfer; tunicate

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