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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Phylogenetic detection of conserved gene clusters in microbial genomes

Yu Zheng1, Brian P Anton12, Richard J Roberts2 and Simon Kasif134*

Author Affiliations

1 Bioinformatics Graduate Program, Boston University, Boston, MA, USA

2 New England Biolabs, Beverly, MA, USA

3 Department of Biomedical Engineering, Boston University, Boston, MA, USA

4 Center for Advanced Genomic Technology, Boston University, Boston, MA, USA

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BMC Bioinformatics 2005, 6:243  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-6-243

Published: 3 October 2005



Microbial genomes contain an abundance of genes with conserved proximity forming clusters on the chromosome. However, the conservation can be a result of many factors such as vertical inheritance, or functional selection. Thus, identification of conserved gene clusters that are under functional selection provides an effective channel for gene annotation, microarray screening, and pathway reconstruction. The problem of devising a robust method to identify these conserved gene clusters and to evaluate the significance of the conservation in multiple genomes has a number of implications for comparative, evolutionary and functional genomics as well as synthetic biology.


In this paper we describe a new method for detecting conserved gene clusters that incorporates the information captured by a genome phylogenetic tree. We show that our method can overcome the common problem of overestimation of significance due to the bias in the genome database and thereby achieve better accuracy when detecting functionally connected gene clusters. Our results can be accessed at database GeneChords webcite.


The methodology described in this paper gives a scalable framework for discovering conserved gene clusters in microbial genomes. It serves as a platform for many other functional genomic analyses in microorganisms, such as operon prediction, regulatory site prediction, functional annotation of genes, evolutionary origin and development of gene clusters.