Horizontal Gene Transfer in Eukaryotes: Not if, but How Much?

Julia Van Etten, Debashish Bhattacharya

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


Horizontal gene transfer (HGT), the movement of genetic material across branches of the tree of life, is well established in prokaryotes and uncontroversial. This is explained in part by relatively compact prokaryote genomes that facilitate assembly and gene prediction, resulting in thousands of complete genomes for analysis. By contrast, their large and often complex genome structure have thwarted HGT studies of eukaryotes. The tide has recently turned with the availability of sufficient high-quality genome data to address quantity and quality of HGT in these taxa. Here, we argue that HGT is a small but significant player in the evolution of microbial eukaryotes and provide examples where HGT has facilitated gain of adaptive functions and in some cases, underpinned major lifestyle transitions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)915-925
Number of pages11
JournalTrends in Genetics
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Genetics


  • functional validation
  • horizontal gene transfer
  • microbial eukaryote genome evolution
  • phylogeny reconstruction
  • tree of life


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