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Elife. 2020 Feb 24;9. pii: e45539. doi: 10.7554/eLife.45539. [Epub ahead of print]

Bacterial contribution to genesis of the novel germ line determinant oskar.

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Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, United States.
HGNC, European Bioinformatics Institute, Cambridge, United Kingdom.
Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology/Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, United States.


New cellular functions and developmental processes can evolve by modifying existing genes or creating novel genes. Novel genes can arise not only via duplication or mutation but also by acquiring foreign DNA, also called horizontal gene transfer (HGT). Here we show that HGT likely contributed to the creation of a novel gene indispensable for reproduction in some insects. Long considered a novel gene with unknown origin, oskar has evolved to fulfil a crucial role in insect germ cell formation. Our analysis of over 100 insect Oskar sequences suggests that Oskar arose de novo via fusion of eukaryotic and prokaryotic sequences. This work shows that highly unusual gene origin processes can give rise to novel genes that can facilitate evolution of novel developmental mechanisms.


D. melanogaster; developmental biology; evolutionary biology

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Conflict of interest statement

LB, TJ, CE The authors declare that no competing interests exist.

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