Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Widespread Horizontal Gene Transfer from Circular Single-stranded DNA Viruses to Eukaryotic Genomes

Huiquan Liu123, Yanping Fu2, Bo Li12, Xiao Yu12, Jiatao Xie2, Jiasen Cheng2, Said A Ghabrial4, Guoqing Li12, Xianhong Yi2 and Daohong Jiang12*

Author affiliations

1 State Key Laboratory of Agricultural Microbiology, Huazhong Agricultural University, Wuhan 430070, Hubei Province, P R China

2 The Provincial Key Lab of Plant Pathology of Hubei Province, College of Plant Science and Technology, Huazhong Agricultural University, Wuhan, 430070, Hubei Province, P R China

3 Current Address: Purdue-NWAFU Joint Research Center, Northwest A&F University, Yangling, 712100, Shaanxi Province, P R China

4 Department of Plant Pathology, University of Kentucky, 201F Plant Science Building, 1405 Veterans Drive, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40546-0312, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:276  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-276

Published: 26 September 2011

Abstract

Background

In addition to vertical transmission, organisms can also acquire genes from other distantly related species or from their extra-chromosomal elements (plasmids and viruses) via horizontal gene transfer (HGT). It has been suggested that phages represent substantial forces in prokaryotic evolution. In eukaryotes, retroviruses, which can integrate into host genome as an obligate step in their replication strategy, comprise approximately 8% of the human genome. Unlike retroviruses, few members of other virus families are known to transfer genes to host genomes.

Results

Here we performed a systematic search for sequences related to circular single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) viruses in publicly available eukaryotic genome databases followed by comprehensive phylogenetic analysis. We conclude that the replication initiation protein (Rep)-related sequences of geminiviruses, nanoviruses and circoviruses have been frequently transferred to a broad range of eukaryotic species, including plants, fungi, animals and protists. Some of the transferred viral genes were conserved and expressed, suggesting that these genes have been coopted to assume cellular functions in the host genomes. We also identified geminivirus-like and parvovirus-like transposable elements in genomes of fungi and lower animals, respectively, and thereby provide direct evidence that eukaryotic transposons could derive from ssDNA viruses.

Conclusions

Our discovery extends the host range of circular ssDNA viruses and sheds light on the origin and evolution of these viruses. It also suggests that ssDNA viruses act as an unforeseen source of genetic innovation in their hosts.