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High Five and Change Your Genome: Horizontal Gene Transfer

WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR DNA?  In humans, DNA is transferred vertically from your parents.  If you’re not human, this question might not be so easy.  It’s commonly known that genes are transferred horizontally in single-cellular organisms, but it seems that this type of gene transfer is much more prevalent in multicellular organisms than we first realized.

WHAT IS HORIZONTAL GENE TRANFER?  This is when DNA moves from one genome into another via Transposable Elements (TEs).  This type of gene transfer can occur across species.  It has been commonly known that this occurs in single-cellular organisms, or prokaryotes, however the prevalence in multicellular organisms, or eukaryotes, is new.

HOW IS THIS DIFFERENT?  Changes in the genome of multicellular organisms have generally been attributed to mutations and different combinations of parental DNA.  This new discovery is like giving your neighbor a “high-five” and suddenly you’ve swapped DNA in your genome! 

WHERE IS IT HAPPENING? Scientists have known about this type of gene transfer in prokaryotes, but it was thought to be rare in eukaryotes.  It has been studied that in insects (flies, butterflies, beetles, wasps) horizontal gene transfer happens regularly enough to shape insect evolution.  Well over 2,000 cases of horizontal gene transfer have occurred across species in only 195 insect genomes.

WHATE ARE THE IMPLICATIONS?  This type of transfer is responsible for antibiotic resistance in bacteria.  Further research in multicellular organisms could lead to greater understanding of biodiversity and maybe even targeted gene delivery…

Kim Buck | Lead Recruiter, Account Manager



Evolution News (27 April 2017). Two genenteci blows against Darwinian speciation.

Intagliata, Christopher (10 May 2017). Insects donate DNA to unrelated Bugs.  Scientific American.

Peccouda, Jean; Loiseaua, Vincent; Cordauxa, Richard, and Gilberta, Clément (20 March 2017). Massive horizontal transfer of transposable elements in insects.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.