Horizontal gene transfer: sustaining pathogenicity and optimizing host-pathogen interactions

Mol Plant Pathol. 2009 Jan;10(1):143-50. doi: 10.1111/j.1364-3703.2008.00518.x.


Successful host-pathogen interactions require the presence, maintenance and expression of gene cassettes called 'pathogenicity islands' (PAIs) and 'metabolic islands' (MAIs) in the respective pathogen. The products of these genes confer on the pathogen the means to recognize their host(s) and to efficiently evade host defences in order to colonize, propagate within the host and eventually disseminate from the host. Virulence effectors secreted by type III and type IV secretion systems, among others, play vital roles in sustaining pathogenicity and optimizing host-pathogen interactions. Complete genome sequences of plant pathogenic bacteria have revealed the presence of PAIs and MAIs. The genes of these islands possess mosaic structures with regions displaying differences in nucleotide composition and codon usage in relation to adjacent genome structures, features that are highly suggestive of their acquisition from a foreign donor. These donors can be other bacteria, as well as lower members of the Archaea and Eukarya. Genes that have moved from the domains Archaea and Eukarya to the domain Bacteria are true cases of horizontal gene transfer. They represent interdomain genetic transfer. Genetic exchange between distinct members of the domain Bacteria, however, represents lateral gene transfer, an intradomain event. Both horizontal and lateral gene transfer events have been used to facilitate survival fitness of the pathogen.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Bacteria / pathogenicity
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal*
  • Genes, Plant
  • Plants / microbiology*
  • Virulence