Eukaryote to gut bacteria transfer of a glycoside hydrolase gene essential for starch breakdown in plants

Mob Genet Elements. 2012 Mar 1;2(2):81-87. doi: 10.4161/mge.20375.


Lateral gene transfer (LGT) between bacteria constitutes a strong force in prokaryote evolution, transforming the hierarchical tree of life into a network of relationships between species. In contrast, only a few cases of LGT from eukaryotes to prokaryotes have been reported so far. The distal animal intestine is predominantly a bacterial ecosystem, supplying the host with energy from dietary polysaccharides through carbohydrate-active enzymes absent from its genome. It has been suggested that LGT is particularly important for the human microbiota evolution. Here we show evidence for the first eukaryotic gene identified in multiple gut bacterial genomes. We found in the genome sequence of several gut bacteria, a typically eukaryotic glycoside-hydrolase necessary for starch breakdown in plants. The distribution of this gene is patchy in gut bacteria with presence otherwise detected only in a few environmental bacteria. We speculate that the transfer of this gene to gut bacteria occurred by a sequence of two key LGT events; first, an original eukaryotic gene was transferred probably from Archaeplastida to environmental bacteria specialized in plant polysaccharides degradation and second, the gene was transferred from the environmental bacteria to gut microbes.