From gene trees to organismal phylogeny in prokaryotes: the case of the gamma-Proteobacteria

PLoS Biol. 2003 Oct;1(1):E19. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0000019. Epub 2003 Sep 15.


The rapid increase in published genomic sequences for bacteria presents the first opportunity to reconstruct evolutionary events on the scale of entire genomes. However, extensive lateral gene transfer (LGT) may thwart this goal by preventing the establishment of organismal relationships based on individual gene phylogenies. The group for which cases of LGT are most frequently documented and for which the greatest density of complete genome sequences is available is the gamma-Proteobacteria, an ecologically diverse and ancient group including free-living species as well as pathogens and intracellular symbionts of plants and animals. We propose an approach to multigene phylogeny using complete genomes and apply it to the case of the gamma-Proteobacteria. We first applied stringent criteria to identify a set of likely gene orthologs and then tested the compatibilities of the resulting protein alignments with several phylogenetic hypotheses. Our results demonstrate phylogenetic concordance among virtually all (203 of 205) of the selected gene families, with each of the exceptions consistent with a single LGT event. The concatenated sequences of the concordant families yield a fully resolved phylogeny. This topology also received strong support in analyses aimed at excluding effects of heterogeneity in nucleotide base composition across lineages. Our analysis indicates that single-copy orthologous genes are resistant to horizontal transfer, even in ancient bacterial groups subject to high rates of LGT. This gene set can be identified and used to yield robust hypotheses for organismal phylogenies, thus establishing a foundation for reconstructing the evolutionary transitions, such as gene transfer, that underlie diversity in genome content and organization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria
  • Computational Biology / methods*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Gammaproteobacteria / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Gene Transfer Techniques
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal
  • Genome
  • Genome, Bacterial
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Multigene Family
  • Phylogeny
  • Prokaryotic Cells