Friday, September 25, 2009

Interkingdom Horizontal Gene Transfer—a hot topic in recent years

Ancient Horizontal Gene Transfer from Bacteria Enhances Biosynthetic Capabilities of Fungi
Schmitt I, Lumbsch HT (2009) PLoS ONE 4(2): e4437. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0004437

Until recently, the studies of gene transfer have been mostly focused on prokaryotes, and the process of gene transfer is assumed to be of limited significance to eukaryotes. The availability of diverse eukaryotic genome sequence data is dramatically changing our views on the important role gene transfer can play in eukaryotic evolution. The rapid increase in fungal sequence data has promoted this kingdom to the forefront of comparative genomics. As a result, interkingdom HGT became a hot topic in recent years. Whereas there is very few documented evidence for interkingdom HGT, but they did happen. Here, we will present an ancient interkingdom HGT event between bacteria and fungi.

The targeted gene discussed here is the polyketide synthase (PKSs) genes, which involved in antibiotic and mycotoxin production. Polyketides are natural products with a wide range of biological functions and pharmaceutical applications. Discovery and utilization of polyketides can be facilitated by understanding the evolutionary processes that gave rise to the biosynthetic machinery and the natural product potential of extant organisms.

Bacteria and fungi commonly harbor a group of PKSs that consists of a single protein complex carrying all catalytic sites (typeI PKS). In this paper, the authors are focusing on a clade of fungal type I PKSs gene which is closely related to bacterial PKSs. Since 6-methylsalicylic acid synthase (6-MSAS) was the first PKS in this group to be characterized, this clade is also termed as‘‘6-MSAS-type PKS’’. The lichenized fungi, which are characterized by a sophisticated vegetative morphology and a rich polyketide metabolism, were selected as the research materials in this study. The total genomic DNA of the lichenized fungi, which collected from 12 different countries, were extracted, and then the KS domain of fungal 6MSAS-type PKS genes were amplified by a degenerate primer pair, LC3 and LC5c. The amplified fragments were cloned and sequenced, and then all sequences were subjected to BLAST searches. The alignment was analyzed in a Bayesian phylogenetic framework using MrBayes 3.1. The tree resulting from this analysis was used to determine the PKS clades most closely related to the fungal 6-MSAS group. To evaluate potential problems with outgroup selection, three alignments including different outgroups were compared.

As a result, 24 6-MSA synthase sequence tags from lichen-forming fungi were generated. The results from comparative phylogenetics support an ancient horizontal gene transfer event from an actinobacterial source into ascomycete fungi, followed by gene duplication. In the Discussion, the authors inferred that the evolution of typical lichen compounds, such as orsellinic acid derivatives, was facilitated by the gain of this bacterial polyketide synthase. Given that actinobacteria are unrivaled producers of biologically active compounds, such as antibiotics, it appears particularly promising to study biosynthetic genes of actinobacterial origin in fungi.

This study revealed the phylogenetic origin of the enigmatic fungal 6-MSAS-type PKS biosynthetic gene using comparative analysis. The results provide statistical support to the hypothesis that this PKS was transferred from an actinobacterial source into ascomycete fungi during an ancient HGT event. They also report the finding of 6-MSAS-type PKS genes in a variety of lichen-forming fungi, and speculate about the possible role of lichen symbionts in the evolution of this gene. Overall, this paper added solid evidence to the fact of interkingdom HGT.

Hui Li Ph.D University of Idaho

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