The human genome retains relics of its prokaryotic ancestry: human genes of archaebacterial and eubacterial origin exhibit remarkable differences

Genome Biol Evol. 2011;3:782-90. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evr073. Epub 2011 Jul 27.


Eukaryotes are generally thought to stem from a fusion event involving an archaebacterium and a eubacterium. As a result of this event, contemporaneous eukaryotic genomes are chimeras of genes inherited from both endosymbiotic partners. These two coexisting gene repertoires have been shown to differ in a number of ways in yeast. Here we combine genomic and functional data in order to determine if and how human genes that have been inherited from both prokaryotic ancestors remain distinguishable. We show that, despite being fewer in number, human genes of archaebacterial origin are more highly and broadly expressed across tissues, are more likely to have lethal mouse orthologs, tend to be involved in informational processes, are more selectively constrained, and encode shorter and more central proteins in the protein-protein interaction network than eubacterium-like genes. Furthermore, consistent with endosymbiotic theory, we show that proteins tend to interact with those encoded by genes of the same ancestry. Most interestingly from a human health perspective, archaebacterial genes are less likely to be involved in heritable human disease. Taken together, these results show that more than 2 billion years after eukaryogenesis, the human genome retains at least two somewhat distinct communities of genes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Archaea / genetics*
  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Computational Biology
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genes, Bacterial / genetics
  • Genes, Lethal
  • Genetic Diseases, Inborn / genetics
  • Genome, Human / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Symbiosis / genetics