Horizontal Gene Transfer and the Evolution of Methanogenic Pathways

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Abstract

Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) is a driving force in the evolution of metabolic pathways, allowing novel enzymatic functions that provide a selective advantage to be rapidly incorporated into an organism’s physiology. Here, the role of two HGT events in the evolution of methanogenesis is described. First, the acetoclastic sub-pathway of methanogenesis is shown to have evolved via a transfer of the ackA and pta genes from a cellulolytic clostridia to a family of methanogenic archaea. Second, the system for encoding the amino acid pyrrolysine, used for the synthesis of enzymes for methanogenesis from methylamines, is shown to likely have evolved via transfer from an ancient, unknown, deeply branching organismal lineage.