A model of horizontal gene transfer and the bacterial phylogeny problem

Syst Biol. 2007 Aug;56(4):633-42. doi: 10.1080/10635150701546231.


How much horizontal gene transfer (HGT) between species influences bacterial phylogenomics is a controversial issue. This debate, however, lacks any quantitative assessment of the impact of HGT on phylogenies and of the ability of tree-building methods to cope with such events. I introduce a Markov model of genome evolution with HGT, accounting for the constraints on time -- an HGT event can only occur between concomitantly living species. This model is used to simulate multigene sequence data sets with or without HGT. The consequences of HGT on phylogenomic inference are analyzed and compared to other well-known phylogenetic artefacts. It is found that supertree methods are quite robust to HGT, keeping high levels of performance even when gene trees are largely incongruent with each other. Gene tree incongruence per se is not indicative of HGT. HGT, however, removes the (otherwise observed) positive relationship between sequence length and gene tree congruence to the estimated species tree. Surprisingly, when applied to a bacterial and a eukaryotic multigene data set, this criterion rejects the HGT hypothesis for the former, but not the latter data set.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / classification*
  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal*
  • Models, Genetic
  • Phylogeny*
  • Stochastic Processes