The fate of laterally transferred genes: life in the fast lane to adaptation or death

Genome Res. 2006 May;16(5):636-43. doi: 10.1101/gr.4746406.


Large-scale genome arrangement plays an important role in bacterial genome evolution. A substantial number of genes can be inserted into, deleted from, or rearranged within genomes during evolution. Detecting or inferring gene insertions/deletions is of interest because such information provides insights into bacterial genome evolution and speciation. However, efficient inference of genome events is difficult because genome comparisons alone do not generally supply enough information to distinguish insertions, deletions, and other rearrangements. In this study, homologous genes from the complete genomes of 13 closely related bacteria were examined. The presence or absence of genes from each genome was cataloged, and a maximum likelihood method was used to infer insertion/deletion rates according to the phylogenetic history of the taxa. It was found that whole gene insertions/deletions in genomes occur at rates comparable to or greater than the rate of nucleotide substitution and that higher insertion/deletion rates are often inferred to be present at the tips of the phylogeny with lower rates on more ancient interior branches. Recently transferred genes are under faster and relaxed evolution compared with more ancient genes. Together, this implies that many of the lineage-specific insertions are lost quickly during evolution and that perhaps a few of the genes inserted by lateral transfer are niche specific.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Bacillaceae / genetics*
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Death*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal*
  • Genome, Bacterial*
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Mutagenesis, Insertional
  • Phylogeny
  • Sequence Deletion
  • Species Specificity