Mobile genetic elements: the agents of open source evolution

Nat Rev Microbiol. 2005 Sep;3(9):722-32. doi: 10.1038/nrmicro1235.


Horizontal genomics is a new field in prokaryotic biology that is focused on the analysis of DNA sequences in prokaryotic chromosomes that seem to have originated from other prokaryotes or eukaryotes. However, it is equally important to understand the agents that effect DNA movement: plasmids, bacteriophages and transposons. Although these agents occur in all prokaryotes, comprehensive genomics of the prokaryotic mobile gene pool or 'mobilome' lags behind other genomics initiatives owing to challenges that are distinct from cellular chromosomal analysis. Recent work shows promise of improved mobile genetic element (MGE) genomics and consequent opportunities to take advantage - and avoid the dangers - of these 'natural genetic engineers'. This review describes MGEs, their properties that are important in horizontal gene transfer, and current opportunities to advance MGE genomics.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Conjugation, Genetic / genetics
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics*
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Interspersed Repetitive Sequences / genetics*
  • Models, Genetic
  • Recombination, Genetic


  • DNA, Bacterial