Lateral gene transfer from prokaryotes to animals is poorly understood, and the scarce documented examples generally concern genes of uncharacterized role in the receiver organism. In contrast, in plant-parasitic nematodes, several genes, usually not found in animals and similar to bacterial homologs, play essential roles for successful parasitism. Many of these encode plant cell wall-degrading enzymes that constitute an unprecedented arsenal in animals in terms of both abundance and diversity. Here we report that independent lateral gene transfers from different bacteria, followed by gene duplications and early gain of introns, have shaped this repertoire. We also show protein immunolocalization data that suggest additional roles for some of these cell wall-degrading enzymes in the late stages of these parasites' life cycle. Multiple functional acquisitions of exogenous genes that provide selective advantage were probably crucial for the emergence and proficiency of plant parasitism in nematodes.