Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) has been described as a common mechanism of transferring genetic material between prokaryotes, whereas genetic transfers from eukaryotes to prokaryotes have been rarely documented. Here we report a rare case of HGT in which plant expansin genes that code for plant cell-wall loosening proteins were transferred from plants to bacteria, fungi, and amoebozoa. In several cases, the species in which the expansin gene was found is either in intimate association with plants or is a known plant pathogen. Our analyses suggest that at least two independent genetic transfers occurred from plants to bacteria and fungi. These events were followed by multiple HGT events within bacteria and fungi. We have also observed that in bacteria expansin genes have been independently fused to DNA fragments that code for an endoglucanase domain or for a carbohydrate binding module, pointing to functional convergence at the molecular level. Furthermore, the functional similarities between microbial expansins and their plant xenologs suggest that these proteins mediate microbial-plant interactions by altering the plant cell wall and therefore may provide adaptive advantages to these species. The evolution of these nonplant expansins represents a unique case in which bacteria and fungi have found innovative and adaptive ways to interact with and infect plants by acquiring genes from their host. This evolutionary paradigm suggests that despite their low frequency such HGT events may have significantly contributed to the evolution of prokaryotic and eukaryotic species.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Molecular Biology