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Open Access Commentary

Lateral gene transfer between prokaryotes and multicellular eukaryotes: ongoing and significant?

Vera ID Ros1 and Gregory DD Hurst2*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biology, Leidy Laboratories 326, University of Pennsylvania, 433 South University Avenue, Philadelphia, PA, 19104-6018, USA

2 School of Biological Sciences, University of Liverpool, Crown Street, Liverpool, L69 7ZB, UK

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BMC Biology 2009, 7:20  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-7-20

Published: 5 May 2009


The expansion of genome sequencing projects has produced accumulating evidence for lateral transfer of genes between prokaryotic and eukaryotic genomes. However, it remains controversial whether these genes are of functional importance in their recipient host. Nikoh and Nakabachi, in a recent paper in BMC Biology, take a first step and show that two genes of bacterial origin are highly expressed in the pea aphid Acyrthosiphon pisum. Active gene expression of transferred genes is supported by three other recent studies. Future studies should reveal whether functional proteins are produced and whether and how these are targeted to the appropriate compartment. We argue that the transfer of genes between host and symbiont may occasionally be of great evolutionary importance, particularly in the evolution of the symbiotic interaction itself.