Toxic genes present a unique phylogenetic signature

Eliran Avni, Sagi Snir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) is a major part of the evolution of Archaea and Bacteria, to the extent that the validity of the Tree of Life concept for prokaryotes has been seriously questioned. The patterns and routes of HGT remain a subject of intense study and debate. It was discovered that while several genes exhibit rampant HGT across the whole prokaryotic tree of life, others are lethal to certain organisms and therefore cannot be successfully transferred to them. We distinguish between these two classes of genes and show analytically that genes found to be toxic to a specific species (E. coli) also resist HGT in general. Several tools we employ show evidence to support that claim. One of those tools is the quartet plurality distribution (QPD), a mathematical tool that measures tendency to HGT over a large set of genes and species. When aggregated over a collection of genes, it can reveal important properties of this collection. We conclude that evidence of toxicity of certain genes to a wide variety of prokaryotes are revealed using the new tool of quartet plurality distribution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-148
Number of pages8
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
StatePublished - Nov 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier Inc.


  • Gene toxicity
  • Horizontal gene transfer
  • Quartet plurality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology


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