Contribution of lateral gene transfers to the genome composition and parasitic ability of root-knot nematodes

PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e50875. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0050875. Epub 2012 Nov 30.


Lateral gene transfers (LGT), species to species transmission of genes by means other than direct inheritance from a common ancestor, have played significant role in shaping prokaryotic genomes and are involved in gain or transfer of important biological processes. Whether LGT significantly contributed to the composition of an animal genome is currently unclear. In nematodes, multiple LGT are suspected to have favored emergence of plant-parasitism. With the availability of whole genome sequences it is now possible to assess whether LGT have significantly contributed to the composition of an animal genome and to establish a comprehensive list of these events. We generated clusters of homologous genes and automated phylogenetic inference, to detect LGT in the genomes of root-knot nematodes and found that up to 3.34% of the genes originate from LGT of non-metazoan origin. After their acquisition, the majority of genes underwent series of duplications. Compared to the rest of the genes in these species, several predicted functional categories showed a skewed distribution in the set of genes acquired via LGT. Interestingly, functions related to metabolism, degradation or modification of carbohydrates or proteins were substantially more frequent. This suggests that genes involved in these processes, related to a parasitic lifestyle, have been more frequently fixed in these parasites after their acquisition. Genes from soil bacteria, including plant-pathogens were the most frequent closest relatives, suggesting donors were preferentially bacteria from the rhizosphere. Several of these bacterial genes are plasmid-borne, pointing to a possible role of these mobile genetic elements in the transfer mechanism. Our analysis provides the first comprehensive description of the ensemble of genes of non-metazoan origin in an animal genome. Besides being involved in important processes regarding plant-parasitism, genes acquired via LGT now constitute a substantial proportion of protein-coding genes in these nematode genomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Base Composition / genetics
  • Codon / genetics
  • DNA Transposable Elements / genetics
  • Gene Duplication
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal / genetics*
  • Genes, Protozoan / genetics
  • Genetic Association Studies
  • Genome / genetics*
  • Open Reading Frames / genetics
  • Parasites / genetics*
  • Phylogeny
  • Plant Diseases / parasitology*
  • Plant Roots / parasitology*
  • Plasmids / genetics
  • Protozoan Proteins / genetics
  • Sequence Homology, Nucleic Acid
  • Soil Microbiology
  • Tylenchoidea / genetics*


  • Codon
  • DNA Transposable Elements
  • Protozoan Proteins

Grant support

This project received funding from the CNRS multidisciplinary program ‘Maladies Infectieuses Emergentes’. JP’s salary was funded by the CNRS multidisciplinary program ‘Maladies Infectieuses Emergentes’. AC-F’s salary was funded by the ANR program plant-genomics NEMATARGETS. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.