Discipline: Biological Sciences
Subcategory: STEM Research
Jennifer Kovacs - Spelman College
Co-Author(s): Emily Weigel and Kiera Brown, Spelman College Jack Werren, University of Rochester
Horizontal (or lateral) gene transfer (HGT) is the transfer of genes between distantly related organisms. In prokaryotes, HGT can result in the rapid acquisition of novel phenotypic traits, such as antibiotic resistance, which can produce adaptations and allow for niche expansion. HGT is not as well-documented among multicellular eukaryotes and it is still unclear how often it results in evolutionarily advantageous traits or traits with ecological effects. Interestingly, several cases of multiple independent transfers of the same gene into the genomes of multiple host species have recently been found, including fungal carotenoid genes in aphids, the two-spotted spider mite, and gall midges; and a bacterial cell wall degrading gene in aphids and mealybugs. In both of these cases, these genes appear to be functional and to have ecological relevance for their host species. Recently, our group has begun using publically available gene expression and genomic data to identify cases of shared horizontally transferred genes among arthropods that occupy the same ecological niche. To do this, we designed two independent bioinformatic pipelines to identify genes that were shared by distantly related niche-sharing arthropods, but absent in more closely non-niche sharing relatives. Here we present several candidate HT genes that are shared among blood-feeding arthropods, but absent in more closely related phloem-feeding relatives. These genes will be further characterized using gene expression analysis and phylogenetic trees to determine their possible function and origin.
Funder Acknowledgement(s): This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation HRD HBCU-UP Research Initiation Award: 'Evolutionary and ecological impacts of horizontal gene transfer in arthropods' under Grant No. 1505481.
Faculty Advisor: None Listed,