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Horizontal gene transfer contributes to the evolution of arthropod herbivory

  • Wybouw, Nicky
  • Pauchet, Yannick
  • Heckel, David G
  • Van Leeuwen, Thomas
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2016
DOI: 10.1093/gbe/ewv119
Ghent University Institutional Archive
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Within animals, evolutionary transition toward herbivory is severely limited by the hostile characteristics of plants. Arthropods have nonetheless counteracted many nutritional and defensive barriers imposed by plants and are currently considered as the most successful animal herbivores in terrestrial ecosystems. We gather a body of evidence showing that genomes of various plant feeding insects and mites possess genes whose presence can only be explained by horizontal gene transfer (HGT). HGT is the asexual transmission of genetic information between reproductively isolated species. Although HGT is known to have great adaptive significance in prokaryotes, its impact on eukaryotic evolution remains obscure. Here, we show that laterally transferred genes into arthropods underpin many adaptations to phytophagy, including efficient assimilation and detoxification of plant produced metabolites. Horizontally acquired genes and the traits they encode often functionally diversify within arthropod recipients, enabling the colonization of more host plant species and organs. We demonstrate that HGT can drive metazoan evolution by uncovering its prominent role in the adaptations of arthropods to exploit plants.

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