Horizontal Gene Transfer Building Prokaryote Genomes: Genes Related to Exchange Between Cell and Environment are Frequently Transferred

Apuã C.M. Paquola, Huma Asif, Carlos Albertode Bragança Pereira, Bruno César Feltes, Diego Bonatto, Wanessa Cristina Lima, Carlos Frederico Martins Menck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) has a major impact on the evolution of prokaryotic genomes, as it allows genes evolved in different contexts to be combined in a single genome, greatly enhancing the ways evolving organisms can explore the gene content space and adapt to the environment. A systematic analysis of HGT in a large number of genomes is of key importance in understanding the impact of HGT in the evolution of prokaryotes. We developed a method for the detection of genes that potentially originated by HGT based on the comparison of BLAST scores between homologous genes to 16S rRNA-based phylogenetic distances between the involved organisms. The approach was applied to 697 prokaryote genomes and estimated that in average approximately 15% of the genes in prokaryote genomes originated by HGT, with a clear correlation between the proportion of predicted HGT genes and the size of the genome. The methodology was strongly supported by evolutionary relationships, as tested by the direct phylogenetic reconstruction of many of the HGT candidates. Studies performed with Escherichia coli W3110 genome clearly show that HGT proteins have fewer interactions when compared to those predicted as vertical inherited, an indication that the number of protein partners imposes limitations to horizontal transfer. A detailed functional classification confirms that genes related to protein translation are vertically inherited, whereas interestingly, transport and binding proteins are strongly enriched among HGT genes. Because these genes are related to the cell exchange with their environment, their transfer most likely contributed to successful adaptation throughout evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)190-203
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Molecular Evolution
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2018


  • Evolution
  • Horizontal gene transfer
  • Phylogenetic tree incongruence
  • Transport proteins

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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