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1.  Ancient horizontal transfer of transaldolase-like protein gene and its role in plant vascular development 
The New Phytologist  2014;206(2):807-816.
A major event in land plant evolution is the origin of vascular tissues, which ensure the long-distance transport of water, nutrients and organic compounds. However, the molecular basis for the origin and evolution of plant vascular tissues remains largely unknown.Here, we investigate the evolution of the land plant TAL-type transaldolase (TAL) gene and its potential function in rice (Oryza sativa) based on phylogenetic analyses and transgenic experiments, respectively.TAL genes are only present in land plants and bacteria. Phylogenetic analyses suggest that land plant TAL genes are derived from Actinobacteria through an ancient horizontal gene transfer (HGT) event. Further evidence reveals that land plant TAL genes have undergone positive selection and gained several introns following its acquisition by the most recent common ancestor of land plants. Transgenic plant experiments show that rice TAL is specifically expressed in vascular tissues and that knockdown of TAL expression leads to changes in both the number and pattern of vascular bundles.Our findings show that the ancient HGT of TAL from bacteria probably plays an important role in plant vascular development and adaptation to land environments.
PMCID: PMC4407918  PMID: 25420550
bacteria; horizontal gene transfer (HGT); land plants; rice (Oryza sativa); TAL-type transaldolase (TAL); vascular development
2.  The evolution of photosynthesis in chromist algae through serial endosymbioses 
Nature Communications  2014;5:5764.
Chromist algae include diverse photosynthetic organisms of great ecological and social importance. Despite vigorous research efforts, a clear understanding of how various chromists acquired photosynthetic organelles has been complicated by conflicting phylogenetic results, along with an undetermined number and pattern of endosymbioses, and the horizontal movement of genes that accompany them. We apply novel statistical approaches to assess impacts of endosymbiotic gene transfer on three principal chromist groups at the heart of long-standing controversies. Our results provide robust support for acquisitions of photosynthesis through serial endosymbioses, beginning with the adoption of a red alga by cryptophytes, then a cryptophyte by the ancestor of ochrophytes, and finally an ochrophyte by the ancestor of haptophytes. Resolution of how chromist algae are related through endosymbioses provides a framework for unravelling the further reticulate history of red algal-derived plastids, and for clarifying evolutionary processes that gave rise to eukaryotic photosynthetic diversity.
The chromalveolate hypothesis proposes that chromist algae became photosynthetic through a single endosymbiosis in a common ancestor. Here, Stiller et al. use a novel statistical approach to propose that instead, the major chromist algae arose as a result of three specific serial plastid transfers.
PMCID: PMC4284659  PMID: 25493338
3.  Genome-wide and molecular evolution analysis of the subtilase gene family in Vitis vinifera 
BMC Genomics  2014;15(1):1116.
Vitis vinifera (grape) is one of the most economically significant fruit crops in the world. The availability of the recently released grape genome sequence offers an opportunity to identify and analyze some important gene families in this species. Subtilases are a group of subtilisin-like serine proteases that are involved in many biological processes in plants. However, no comprehensive study incorporating phylogeny, chromosomal location and gene duplication, gene organization, functional divergence, selective pressure and expression profiling has been reported so far for the grape.
In the present study, a comprehensive analysis of the subtilase gene family in V. vinifera was performed. Eighty subtilase genes were identified. Phylogenetic analyses indicated that these subtilase genes comprised eight groups. The gene organization is considerably conserved among the groups. Distribution of the subtilase genes is non-random across the chromosomes. A high proportion of these genes are preferentially clustered, indicating that tandem duplications may have contributed significantly to the expansion of the subtilase gene family. Analyses of divergence and adaptive evolution show that while purifying selection may have been the main force driving the evolution of grape subtilases, some of the critical sites responsible for the divergence may have been under positive selection. Further analyses of real-time PCR data suggested that many subtilase genes might be important in the stress response and functional development of plants.
Tandem duplications as well as purifying and positive selections have contributed to the functional divergence of subtilase genes in V. vinifera. The data may contribute to a better understanding of the grape subtilase gene family.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-1116) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4378017  PMID: 25512249
Vitis vinifera; Subtilase; Gene family; Evolution; Positive selection; Differential expression
4.  Transcriptome Sequencing and De Novo Analysis of Cytoplasmic Male Sterility and Maintenance in JA-CMS Cotton 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(11):e112320.
Cytoplasmic male sterility (CMS) is the failure to produce functional pollen, which is inherited maternally. And it is known that anther development is modulated through complicated interactions between nuclear and mitochondrial genes in sporophytic and gametophytic tissues. However, an unbiased transcriptome sequencing analysis of CMS in cotton is currently lacking in the literature. This study compared differentially expressed (DE) genes of floral buds at the sporogenous cells stage (SS) and microsporocyte stage (MS) (the two most important stages for pollen abortion in JA-CMS) between JA-CMS and its fertile maintainer line JB cotton plants, using the Illumina HiSeq 2000 sequencing platform. A total of 709 (1.8%) DE genes including 293 up-regulated and 416 down-regulated genes were identified in JA-CMS line comparing with its maintainer line at the SS stage, and 644 (1.6%) DE genes with 263 up-regulated and 381 down-regulated genes were detected at the MS stage. By comparing the two stages in the same material, there were 8 up-regulated and 9 down-regulated DE genes in JA-CMS line and 29 up-regulated and 9 down-regulated DE genes in JB maintainer line at the MS stage. Quantitative RT-PCR was used to validate 7 randomly selected DE genes. Bioinformatics analysis revealed that genes involved in reduction-oxidation reactions and alpha-linolenic acid metabolism were down-regulated, while genes pertaining to photosynthesis and flavonoid biosynthesis were up-regulated in JA-CMS floral buds compared with their JB counterparts at the SS and/or MS stages. All these four biological processes play important roles in reactive oxygen species (ROS) homeostasis, which may be an important factor contributing to the sterile trait of JA-CMS. Further experiments are warranted to elucidate molecular mechanisms of these genes that lead to CMS.
PMCID: PMC4221291  PMID: 25372034
5.  AST: An Automated Sequence-Sampling Method for Improving the Taxonomic Diversity of Gene Phylogenetic Trees 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e98844.
A challenge in phylogenetic inference of gene trees is how to properly sample a large pool of homologous sequences to derive a good representative subset of sequences. Such a need arises in various applications, e.g. when (1) accuracy-oriented phylogenetic reconstruction methods may not be able to deal with a large pool of sequences due to their high demand in computing resources; (2) applications analyzing a collection of gene trees may prefer to use trees with fewer operational taxonomic units (OTUs), for instance for the detection of horizontal gene transfer events by identifying phylogenetic conflicts; and (3) the pool of available sequences is biased towards extensively studied species. In the past, the creation of subsamples often relied on manual selection. Here we present an Automated sequence-Sampling method for improving the Taxonomic diversity of gene phylogenetic trees, AST, to obtain representative sequences that maximize the taxonomic diversity of the sampled sequences. To demonstrate the effectiveness of AST, we have tested it to solve four problems, namely, inference of the evolutionary histories of the small ribosomal subunit protein S5 of E. coli, 16 S ribosomal RNAs and glycosyl-transferase gene family 8, and a study of ancient horizontal gene transfers from bacteria to plants. Our results show that the resolution of our computational results is almost as good as that of manual inference by domain experts, hence making the tool generally useful to phylogenetic studies by non-phylogeny specialists. The program is available at
PMCID: PMC4044049  PMID: 24892935
6.  Root parasitic plant Orobanche aegyptiaca and shoot parasitic plant Cuscuta australis obtained Brassicaceae-specific strictosidine synthase-like genes by horizontal gene transfer 
BMC Plant Biology  2014;14:19.
Besides gene duplication and de novo gene generation, horizontal gene transfer (HGT) is another important way of acquiring new genes. HGT may endow the recipients with novel phenotypic traits that are important for species evolution and adaption to new ecological niches. Parasitic systems expectedly allow the occurrence of HGT at relatively high frequencies due to their long-term physical contact. In plants, a number of HGT events have been reported between the organelles of parasites and the hosts, but HGT between host and parasite nuclear genomes has rarely been found.
A thorough transcriptome screening revealed that a strictosidine synthase-like (SSL) gene in the root parasitic plant Orobanche aegyptiaca and the shoot parasitic plant Cuscuta australis showed much higher sequence similarities with those in Brassicaceae than with those in their close relatives, suggesting independent gene horizontal transfer events from Brassicaceae to these parasites. These findings were strongly supported by phylogenetic analysis and their identical unique amino acid residues and deletions. Intriguingly, the nucleus-located SSL genes in Brassicaceae belonged to a new member of SSL gene family, which were originated from gene duplication. The presence of introns indicated that the transfer occurred directly by DNA integration in both parasites. Furthermore, positive selection was detected in the foreign SSL gene in O. aegyptiaca but not in C. australis. The expression of the foreign SSL genes in these two parasitic plants was detected in multiple development stages and tissues, and the foreign SSL gene was induced after wounding treatment in C. australis stems. These data imply that the foreign genes may still retain certain functions in the recipient species.
Our study strongly supports that parasitic plants can gain novel nuclear genes from distantly related host species by HGT and the foreign genes may execute certain functions in the new hosts.
PMCID: PMC3893544  PMID: 24411025
Cuscuta; Horizontal gene transfer; New genes; Orobanche; Parasitic plants; Strictosidine Synthase-Like Genes
7.  Horizontal gene transfer in the innovation and adaptation of land plants 
Plant Signaling & Behavior  2013;8(5):e24130.
Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) has been well documented in prokaryotes and unicellular eukaryotes, but its role in plants and animals remains elusive. In a recent study, we showed that at least 57 families of nuclear genes in the moss Physcomitrella patens were acquired from prokaryotes, fungi or viruses and that HGT played a critical role in plant colonization of land. In this paper, we categorize all acquired genes based on their putative functions and biological processes, and further address the importance of HGT in plant innovation and evolution.
PMCID: PMC3907414  PMID: 23470724
gene acquisition; adaptation; land plants; plant evolution
8.  The scale and evolutionary significance of horizontal gene transfer in the choanoflagellate Monosiga brevicollis 
BMC Genomics  2013;14(1):729.
It is generally agreed that horizontal gene transfer (HGT) is common in phagotrophic protists. However, the overall scale of HGT and the cumulative impact of acquired genes on the evolution of these organisms remain largely unknown.
Choanoflagellates are phagotrophs and the closest living relatives of animals. In this study, we performed phylogenomic analyses to investigate the scale of HGT and the evolutionary importance of horizontally acquired genes in the choanoflagellate Monosiga brevicollis. Our analyses identified 405 genes that are likely derived from algae and prokaryotes, accounting for approximately 4.4% of the Monosiga nuclear genome. Many of the horizontally acquired genes identified in Monosiga were probably acquired from food sources, rather than by endosymbiotic gene transfer (EGT) from obsolete endosymbionts or plastids. Of 193 genes identified in our analyses with functional information, 84 (43.5%) are involved in carbohydrate or amino acid metabolism, and 45 (23.3%) are transporters and/or involved in response to oxidative, osmotic, antibiotic, or heavy metal stresses. Some identified genes may also participate in biosynthesis of important metabolites such as vitamins C and K12, porphyrins and phospholipids.
Our results suggest that HGT is frequent in Monosiga brevicollis and might have contributed substantially to its adaptation and evolution. This finding also highlights the importance of HGT in the genome and organismal evolution of phagotrophic eukaryotes.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1471-2164-14-729) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4046809  PMID: 24156600
Genome evolution; Choanoflagellates; HGT frequency; Eukaryotic evolution; Adaptation
9.  Algal genes in aplastidic eukaryotes are not necessarily derived from historical plastids 
Mobile Genetic Elements  2012;2(4):193-196.
In photosynthetic eukaryotes, many genes were transferred from plastids or algal endosymbionts to nuclear genomes of host cells. These transferred genes are often considered genetic footprints of plastids. However, genes of algal origin have also been detected in some plastid-lacking eukaryotes, and these genes are often cited as evidence of historical plastids. In this paper, we discuss two recent publications about algal genes in plastid-lacking eukaryotes. Both studies highlight the point that algal genes are not exclusively derived from historical plastids. Instead, the findings show that gene acquisition through feeding activities is a plausible explanation.
PMCID: PMC3469431  PMID: 23087844
endosymbiosis; gene transfer; phagotroph; photosynthetic eukaryotes
10.  Ancient gene transfer from algae to animals: Mechanisms and evolutionary significance 
Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) is traditionally considered to be rare in multicellular eukaryotes such as animals. Recently, many genes of miscellaneous algal origins were discovered in choanoflagellates. Considering that choanoflagellates are the existing closest relatives of animals, we speculated that ancient HGT might have occurred in the unicellular ancestor of animals and affected the long-term evolution of animals.
Through genome screening, phylogenetic and domain analyses, we identified 14 gene families, including 92 genes, in the tunicate Ciona intestinalis that are likely derived from miscellaneous photosynthetic eukaryotes. Almost all of these gene families are distributed in diverse animals, suggesting that they were mostly acquired by the common ancestor of animals. Their miscellaneous origins also suggest that these genes are not derived from a particular algal endosymbiont. In addition, most genes identified in our analyses are functionally related to molecule transport, cellular regulation and methylation signaling, suggesting that the acquisition of these genes might have facilitated the intercellular communication in the ancestral animal.
Our findings provide additional evidence that algal genes in aplastidic eukaryotes are not exclusively derived from historical plastids and thus important for interpreting the evolution of eukaryotic photosynthesis. Most importantly, our data represent the first evidence that more anciently acquired genes might exist in animals and that ancient HGT events have played an important role in animal evolution.
PMCID: PMC3494510  PMID: 22690978
Gene transfer; Endosymbiosis; Plastids; Animal evolution
11.  Evolution of Plant Nucleotide-Sugar Interconversion Enzymes 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(11):e27995.
Nucleotide-diphospho-sugars (NDP-sugars) are the building blocks of diverse polysaccharides and glycoconjugates in all organisms. In plants, 11 families of NDP-sugar interconversion enzymes (NSEs) have been identified, each of which interconverts one NDP-sugar to another. While the functions of these enzyme families have been characterized in various plants, very little is known about their evolution and origin. Our phylogenetic analyses indicate that all the 11 plant NSE families are distantly related and most of them originated from different progenitor genes, which have already diverged in ancient prokaryotes. For instance, all NSE families are found in the lower land plant mosses and most of them are also found in aquatic algae, implicating that they have already evolved to be capable of synthesizing all the 11 different NDP-sugars. Particularly interesting is that the evolution of RHM (UDP-L-rhamnose synthase) manifests the fusion of genes of three enzymatic activities in early eukaryotes in a rather intriguing manner. The plant NRS/ER (nucleotide-rhamnose synthase/epimerase-reductase), on the other hand, evolved much later from the ancient plant RHMs through losing the N-terminal domain. Based on these findings, an evolutionary model is proposed to explain the origin and evolution of different NSE families. For instance, the UGlcAE (UDP-D-glucuronic acid 4-epimerase) family is suggested to have evolved from some chlamydial bacteria. Our data also show considerably higher sequence diversity among NSE-like genes in modern prokaryotes, consistent with the higher sugar diversity found in prokaryotes. All the NSE families are widely found in plants and algae containing carbohydrate-rich cell walls, while sporadically found in animals, fungi and other eukaryotes, which do not have or have cell walls with distinct compositions. Results of this study were shown to be highly useful for identifying unknown genes for further experimental characterization to determine their functions in the synthesis of diverse glycosylated molecules.
PMCID: PMC3220709  PMID: 22125650
12.  Analyses of the oligopeptide transporter gene family in poplar and grape 
BMC Genomics  2011;12:465.
Oligopeptide transporters (OPTs) are a group of membrane-localized proteins that have a broad range of substrate transport capabilities and that are thought to contribute to many biological processes. The OPT proteins belong to a small gene family in plants, which includes about 25 members in Arabidopsis and rice. However, no comprehensive study incorporating phylogeny, chromosomal location, gene structure, expression profiling, functional divergence and selective pressure analysis has been reported thus far for Populus and Vitis.
In the present study, a comprehensive analysis of the OPT gene family in Populus (P. trichocarpa) and Vitis (V. vinifera) was performed. A total of 20 and 18 full-length OPT genes have been identified in Populus and Vitis, respectively. Phylogenetic analyses indicate that these OPT genes consist of two classes that can be further subdivided into 11 groups. Gene structures are considerably conserved among the groups. The distribution of OPT genes was found to be non-random across chromosomes. A high proportion of the genes are preferentially clustered, indicating that tandem duplications may have contributed significantly to the expansion of the OPT gene family. Expression patterns based on our analyses of microarray data suggest that many OPT genes may be important in stress response and functional development of plants. Further analyses of functional divergence and adaptive evolution show that, while purifying selection may have been the main force driving the evolution of the OPTs, some of critical sites responsible for the functional divergence may have been under positive selection.
Overall, the data obtained from our investigation contribute to a better understanding of the complexity of the Populus and Vitis OPT gene family and of the function and evolution of the OPT gene family in higher plants.
PMCID: PMC3188535  PMID: 21943393
13.  Evidence for acquisition of virulence effectors in pathogenic chytrids 
The decline in amphibian populations across the world is frequently linked to the infection of the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). This is particularly perplexing because Bd was only recently discovered in 1999 and no chytrid fungus had previously been identified as a vertebrate pathogen.
In this study, we show that two large families of known virulence effector genes, crinkler (CRN) proteins and serine peptidases, were acquired by Bd from oomycete pathogens and bacteria, respectively. These two families have been duplicated after their acquisition by Bd. Additional selection analyses indicate that both families evolved under strong positive selection, suggesting that they are involved in the adaptation of Bd to its hosts.
We propose that the acquisition of virulence effectors, in combination with habitat disruption and climate change, may have driven the Bd epidemics and the decline in amphibian populations. This finding provides a starting point for biochemical investigations of chytridiomycosis.
PMCID: PMC3161006  PMID: 21740557
14.  EGID: an ensemble algorithm for improved genomic island detection in genomic sequences 
Bioinformation  2011;7(6):311-314.
Genomic islands (GIs) are genomic regions that are originally transferred from other organisms. The detection of genomic islands in genomes can lead to many applications in industrial, medical and environmental contexts. Existing computational tools for GI detection suffer either low recall or low precision, thus leaving the room for improvement. In this paper, we report the development of our Ensemble algorithm for Genomic Island Detection (EGID). EGID utilizes the prediction results of existing computational tools, filters and generates consensus prediction results. Performance comparisons between our ensemble algorithm and existing programs have shown that our ensemble algorithm is better than any other program. EGID was implemented in Java, and was compiled and executed on Linux operating systems. EGID is freely available at
PMCID: PMC3280502  PMID: 22355228
Bacterial genomes; Ensemble algorithm; Genomic islands
15.  Horizontal gene transfer from extinct and extant lineages: biological innovation and the coral of life 
Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) is often considered to be a source of error in phylogenetic reconstruction, causing individual gene trees within an organismal lineage to be incongruent, obfuscating the ‘true’ evolutionary history. However, when identified as such, HGTs between divergent organismal lineages are useful, phylogenetically informative characters that can provide insight into evolutionary history. Here, we discuss several distinct HGT events involving all three domains of life, illustrating the selective advantages that can be conveyed via HGT, and the utility of HGT in aiding phylogenetic reconstruction and in dating the relative sequence of speciation events. We also discuss the role of HGT from extinct lineages, and its impact on our understanding of the evolution of life on Earth. Organismal phylogeny needs to incorporate reticulations; a simple tree does not provide an accurate depiction of the processes that have shaped life's history.
PMCID: PMC2873001  PMID: 19571243
horizontal gene transfer; chlamydiae; cyanobacteria; acetoclastic methanogenesis; pyrrolysine; extinct lineages
16.  Are algal genes in nonphotosynthetic protists evidence of historical plastid endosymbioses? 
BMC Genomics  2009;10:484.
How photosynthetic organelles, or plastids, were acquired by diverse eukaryotes is among the most hotly debated topics in broad scale eukaryotic evolution. The history of plastid endosymbioses commonly is interpreted under the "chromalveolate" hypothesis, which requires numerous plastid losses from certain heterotrophic groups that now are entirely aplastidic. In this context, discoveries of putatively algal genes in plastid-lacking protists have been cited as evidence of gene transfer from a photosynthetic endosymbiont that subsequently was lost completely. Here we examine this evidence, as it pertains to the chromalveolate hypothesis, through genome-level statistical analyses of similarity scores from queries with two diatoms, Phaeodactylum tricornutum and Thalassiosira pseudonana, and two aplastidic sister taxa, Phytophthora ramorum and P. sojae.
Contingency tests of specific predictions of the chromalveolate model find no evidence for an unusual red algal contribution to Phytophthora genomes, nor that putative cyanobacterial sequences that are present entered these genomes through a red algal endosymbiosis. Examination of genes unrelated to plastid function provide extraordinarily significant support for both of these predictions in diatoms, the control group where a red endosymbiosis is known to have occurred, but none of that support is present in genes specifically conserved between diatoms and oomycetes. In addition, we uncovered a strong association between overall sequence similarities among taxa and relative sizes of genomic data sets in numbers of genes.
Signal from "algal" genes in oomycete genomes is inconsistent with the chromalveolate hypothesis, and better explained by alternative models of sequence and genome evolution. Combined with the numerous sources of intragenomic phylogenetic conflict characterized previously, our results underscore the potential to be mislead by a posteriori interpretations of variable phylogenetic signals contained in complex genome-level data. They argue strongly for explicit testing of the different a priori assumptions inherent in competing evolutionary hypotheses.
PMCID: PMC2770532  PMID: 19843329
17.  The cellulose synthase superfamily in fully sequenced plants and algae 
BMC Plant Biology  2009;9:99.
The cellulose synthase superfamily has been classified into nine cellulose synthase-like (Csl) families and one cellulose synthase (CesA) family. The Csl families have been proposed to be involved in the synthesis of the backbones of hemicelluloses of plant cell walls. With 17 plant and algal genomes fully sequenced, we sought to conduct a genome-wide and systematic investigation of this superfamily through in-depth phylogenetic analyses.
A single-copy gene is found in the six chlorophyte green algae, which is most closely related to the CslA and CslC families that are present in the seven land plants investigated in our analyses. Six proteins from poplar, grape and sorghum form a distinct family (CslJ), providing further support for the conclusions from two recent studies. CslB/E/G/H/J families have evolved significantly more rapidly than their widely distributed relatives, and tend to have intragenomic duplications, in particular in the grape genome.
Our data suggest that the CslA and CslC families originated through an ancient gene duplication event in land plants. We speculate that the single-copy Csl gene in green algae may encode a mannan synthase. We confirm that the rest of the Csl families have a different evolutionary origin than CslA and CslC, and have proposed a model for the divergence order among them. Our study provides new insights about the evolution of this important gene family in plants.
PMCID: PMC3091534  PMID: 19646250
18.  Analyses of domains and domain fusions in human proto-oncogenes 
BMC Bioinformatics  2009;10:88.
Understanding the constituent domains of oncogenes, their origins and their fusions may shed new light about the initiation and the development of cancers.
We have developed a computational pipeline for identification of functional domains of human genes, prediction of the origins of these domains and their major fusion events during evolution through integration of existing and new tools of our own. An application of the pipeline to 124 well-characterized human oncogenes has led to the identification of a collection of domains and domain pairs that occur substantially more frequently in oncogenes than in human genes on average. Most of these enriched domains and domain pairs are related to tyrosine kinase activities. In addition, our analyses indicate that a substantial portion of the domain-fusion events of oncogenes took place in metazoans during evolution.
We expect that the computational pipeline for domain identification, domain origin and domain fusion prediction will prove to be useful for studying other groups of genes.
PMCID: PMC2679021  PMID: 19292927
19.  Concerted gene recruitment in early plant evolution 
Genome Biology  2008;9(7):R109.
Analyses of the red algal Cyanidioschyzon genome identified 37 genes that were acquired from non-organellar sources prior to the split of red algae and green plants.
Horizontal gene transfer occurs frequently in prokaryotes and unicellular eukaryotes. Anciently acquired genes, if retained among descendants, might significantly affect the long-term evolution of the recipient lineage. However, no systematic studies on the scope of anciently acquired genes and their impact on macroevolution are currently available in eukaryotes.
Analyses of the genome of the red alga Cyanidioschyzon identified 37 genes that were acquired from non-organellar sources prior to the split of red algae and green plants. Ten of these genes are rarely found in cyanobacteria or have additional plastid-derived homologs in plants. These genes most likely provided new functions, often essential for plant growth and development, to the ancestral plant. Many remaining genes may represent replacements of endogenous homologs with a similar function. Furthermore, over 78% of the anciently acquired genes are related to the biogenesis and functionality of plastids, the defining character of plants.
Our data suggest that, although ancient horizontal gene transfer events did occur in eukaryotic evolution, the number of acquired genes does not predict the role of horizontal gene transfer in the adaptation of the recipient organism. Our data also show that multiple independently acquired genes are able to generate and optimize key evolutionary novelties in major eukaryotic groups. In light of these findings, we propose and discuss a general mechanism of horizontal gene transfer in the macroevolution of eukaryotes.
PMCID: PMC2530860  PMID: 18611267
20.  Did an ancient chlamydial endosymbiosis facilitate the establishment of primary plastids? 
Genome Biology  2007;8(6):R99.
Phylogenomic analyses of the red alga Cyanidioschyzon merolae shows that at least 21 genes were transferred between chlamydiae and primary photosynthetic eukaryotes, suggesting an ancient chlamydial endosymbiosis with the ancestral primary photosynthetic eukaryote.
Ancient endosymbioses are responsible for the origins of mitochondria and plastids, and they contribute to the divergence of several major eukaryotic groups. Although chlamydiae, a group of obligate intracellular bacteria, are not found in plants, an unexpected number of chlamydial genes are most similar to plant homologs, which, interestingly, often contain a plastid-targeting signal. This observation has prompted several hypotheses, including gene transfer between chlamydiae and plant-related groups and an ancestral relationship between chlamydiae and cyanobacteria.
We conducted phylogenomic analyses of the red alga Cyanidioschyzon merolae to identify genes specifically related to chlamydial homologs. We show that at least 21 genes were transferred between chlamydiae and primary photosynthetic eukaryotes, with the donor most similar to the environmental Protochlamydia. Such an unusually high number of transferred genes suggests an ancient chlamydial endosymbiosis with the ancestral primary photosynthetic eukaryote. We hypothesize that three organisms were involved in establishing the primary photosynthetic lineage: the eukaryotic host cell, the cyanobacterial endosymbiont that provided photosynthetic capability, and a chlamydial endosymbiont or parasite that facilitated the establishment of the cyanobacterial endosymbiont.
Our findings provide a glimpse into the complex interactions that were necessary to establish the primary endosymbiotic relationship between plastid and host cytoplasms, and thereby explain the rarity with which long-term successful endosymbiotic relationships between heterotrophs and photoautotrophs were established. Our data also provide strong and independent support for a common origin of all primary photosynthetic eukaryotes and of the plastids they harbor.
PMCID: PMC2394758  PMID: 17547748
21.  Phylogenomic evidence supports past endosymbiosis, intracellular and horizontal gene transfer in Cryptosporidium parvum 
Genome Biology  2004;5(11):R88.
An analysis of Cryptosporidium parvum genes of likely endosymbiont or prokaryotic origin supports the hypothesis that C. arvum evolved from a plastid-containing lineage.
The apicomplexan parasite Cryptosporidium parvum is an emerging pathogen capable of causing illness in humans and other animals and death in immunocompromised individuals. No effective treatment is available and the genome sequence has recently been completed. This parasite differs from other apicomplexans in its lack of a plastid organelle, the apicoplast. Gene transfer, either intracellular from an endosymbiont/donor organelle or horizontal from another organism, can provide evidence of a previous endosymbiotic relationship and/or alter the genetic repertoire of the host organism. Given the importance of gene transfers in eukaryotic evolution and the potential implications for chemotherapy, it is important to identify the complement of transferred genes in Cryptosporidium.
We have identified 31 genes of likely plastid/endosymbiont (n = 7) or prokaryotic (n = 24) origin using a phylogenomic approach. The findings support the hypothesis that Cryptosporidium evolved from a plastid-containing lineage and subsequently lost its apicoplast during evolution. Expression analyses of candidate genes of algal and eubacterial origin show that these genes are expressed and developmentally regulated during the life cycle of C. parvum.
Cryptosporidium is the recipient of a large number of transferred genes, many of which are not shared by other apicomplexan parasites. Genes transferred from distant phylogenetic sources, such as eubacteria, may be potential targets for therapeutic drugs owing to their phylogenetic distance or the lack of homologs in the host. The successful integration and expression of the transferred genes in this genome has changed the genetic and metabolic repertoire of the parasite.
PMCID: PMC545779  PMID: 15535864
22.  Widespread impact of horizontal gene transfer on plant colonization of land 
Nature Communications  2012;3:1152-.
In complex multicellular eukaryotes such as animals and plants, horizontal gene transfer is commonly considered rare with very limited evolutionary significance. Here we show that horizontal gene transfer is a dynamic process occurring frequently in the early evolution of land plants. Our genome analyses of the moss Physcomitrella patens identified 57 families of nuclear genes that were acquired from prokaryotes, fungi or viruses. Many of these gene families were transferred to the ancestors of green or land plants. Available experimental evidence shows that these anciently acquired genes are involved in some essential or plant-specific activities such as xylem formation, plant defence, nitrogen recycling as well as the biosynthesis of starch, polyamines, hormones and glutathione. These findings suggest that horizontal gene transfer had a critical role in the transition of plants from aquatic to terrestrial environments. On the basis of these findings, we propose a model of horizontal gene transfer mechanism in nonvascular and seedless vascular plants.
Although horizontal gene transfer is prevalent in microorganisms, such sharing of genetic information is thought to be rare in land plants. Focusing on the sequenced moss species, Physcomitrella patens, these authors report genes acquired from microorganisms, which might have facilitated early evolution of land plants.
PMCID: PMC3493653  PMID: 23093189
23.  Horizontal gene transfer in eukaryotes: The weak-link model 
Bioessays  2013;35(10):868-875.
The significance of horizontal gene transfer (HGT) in eukaryotic evolution remains controversial. Although many eukaryotic genes are of bacterial origin, they are often interpreted as being derived from mitochondria or plastids. Because of their fixed gene pool and gene loss, however, mitochondria and plastids alone cannot adequately explain the presence of all, or even the majority, of bacterial genes in eukaryotes. Available data indicate that no insurmountable barrier to HGT exists, even in complex multicellular eukaryotes. In addition, the discovery of both recent and ancient HGT events in all major eukaryotic groups suggests that HGT has been a regular occurrence throughout the history of eukaryotic evolution. A model of HGT is proposed that suggests both unicellular and early developmental stages as likely entry points for foreign genes into multicellular eukaryotes.
PMCID: PMC4033532  PMID: 24037739
endosymbiosis; eukaryotic evolution; gene acquisition; genome evolution; organellar gene transfer

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