Horizontal gene acquisitions by eukaryotes as drivers of adaptive evolution

Bioessays. 2014 Jan;36(1):9-20. doi: 10.1002/bies.201300095. Epub 2013 Nov 13.


In contrast to vertical gene transfer from parent to offspring, horizontal (or lateral) gene transfer moves genetic information between different species. Bacteria and archaea often adapt through horizontal gene transfer. Recent analyses indicate that eukaryotic genomes, too, have acquired numerous genes via horizontal transfer from prokaryotes and other lineages. Based on this we raise the hypothesis that horizontally acquired genes may have contributed more to adaptive evolution of eukaryotes than previously assumed. Current candidate sets of horizontally acquired eukaryotic genes may just be the tip of an iceberg. We have recently shown that adaptation of the thermoacidophilic red alga Galdieria sulphuraria to its hot, acid, toxic-metal laden, volcanic environment was facilitated by the acquisition of numerous genes from extremophile bacteria and archaea. Other recently published examples of horizontal acquisitions involved in adaptation include ice-binding proteins in marine algae, enzymes for carotenoid biosynthesis in aphids, and genes involved in fungal metabolism. Editor's suggested further reading in BioEssays Jumping the fine LINE between species: Horizontal transfer of transposable elements in animals catalyses genome evolution Abstract.

Keywords: adaptation; evolution; genome; horizontal gene transfer; phylogeny.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / genetics*
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Eukaryota / genetics*
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Phylogeny