Biased biological functions of horizontally transferred genes in prokaryotic genomes

Nat Genet. 2004 Jul;36(7):760-6. doi: 10.1038/ng1381. Epub 2004 Jun 20.


Horizontal gene transfer is one of the main mechanisms contributing to microbial genome diversification. To clarify the overall picture of interspecific gene flow among prokaryotes, we developed a new method for detecting horizontally transferred genes and their possible donors by Bayesian inference with training models for nucleotide composition. Our method gives the average posterior probability (horizontal transfer index) for each gene sequence, with a low horizontal transfer index indicating recent horizontal transfer. We found that 14% of open reading frames in 116 prokaryotic complete genomes were subjected to recent horizontal transfer. Based on this data set, we quantitatively determined that the biological functions of horizontally transferred genes, except mobile element genes, are biased to three categories: cell surface, DNA binding and pathogenicity-related functions. Thus, the transferability of genes seems to depend heavily on their functions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal*
  • Multigene Family