The emergence and fate of horizontally acquired genes in Escherichia coli

M.W.J. van Passel, P.R. Marri, H. Ochman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

61 Citations (Scopus)


Bacterial species, and even strains within species, can vary greatly in their gene contents and metabolic capabilities. We examine the evolution of this diversity by assessing the distribution and ancestry of each gene in 13 sequenced isolates of Escherichia coli and Shigella. We focus on the emergence and demise of two specific classes of genes, ORFans (genes with no homologs in present databases) and HOPs (genes with distant homologs), since these genes, in contrast to most conserved ancestral sequences, are known to be a major source of the novel features in each strain. We find that the rates of gain and loss of these genes vary greatly among strains as well as through time, and that ORFans and HOPs show very different behavior with respect to their emergence and demise. Although HOPs, which mostly represent gene acquisitions from other bacteria, originate more frequently, ORFans are much more likely to persist. This difference suggests that many adaptive traits are conferred by completely novel genes that do not originate in other bacterial genomes. With respect to the demise of these acquired genes, we find that strains of Shigella lose genes, both by disruption events and by complete removal, at accelerated rates.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1000059
Number of pages7
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • complete genome sequence
  • shigella-flexneri 2a
  • bacterial genomes
  • transferred genes
  • selection
  • strains
  • orfans
  • pseudogenes
  • evolution
  • dynamics


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