Functional & Integrative Genomics

, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 23–29 | Cite as

Horizontal gene transfer in plants

  • Caihua Gao
  • Xiaodong Ren
  • Annaliese S. Mason
  • Honglei Liu
  • Meili Xiao
  • Jiana Li
  • Donghui FuEmail author


Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) describes the transmission of genetic material across species boundaries. HGT often occurs in microbic and eukaryotic genomes. However, the pathways by which HGTs occur in multicellular eukaryotes, especially in plants, are not well understood. We systematically summarized more than ten possible pathways for HGT. The intimate contact which frequently occurs in parasitism, symbiosis, pathogen, epiphyte, entophyte, and grafting interactions could promote HGTs between two species. Besides these direct transfer methods, genes can be exchanged with a vector as a bridge: possible vectors include pollen, fungi, bacteria, viruses, viroids, plasmids, transposons, and insects. HGT, especially when involving horizontal transfer of transposable elements, is recognized as a significant force propelling genomic variation and biological innovation, playing an important functional and evolutionary role in both eukaryotic and prokaryotic genomes. We proposed possible mechanisms by which HGTs can occur, which is useful in understanding the genetic information exchange among distant species or distant cellular components.


Endosymbioses Grafting Horizontal gene transfer Parasitism HGT pathway Plant evolution 



Horizontal gene transfer


Transposable elements



This work was supported financially by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (code 31260335) and the Research Fund for the Doctoral Program of Higher Education of China (code 20123603120002). A. Mason is supported by an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DE120100668).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Caihua Gao
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Xiaodong Ren
    • 1
    • 2
  • Annaliese S. Mason
    • 4
  • Honglei Liu
    • 1
    • 2
  • Meili Xiao
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jiana Li
    • 1
    • 2
  • Donghui Fu
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Engineering Research Center of South Upland Agriculture, Ministry of EducationSouthwest UniversityChongqingPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.College of Agronomy and BiotechnologySouthwest UniversityChongqingPeople’s Republic of China
  3. 3.Key Laboratory of Crop Physiology, Ecology and Genetic Breeding, Ministry of EducationJiangxi Agricultural UniversityNanchangPeople’s Republic of China
  4. 4.Centre for Integrative Legume Research and School of Agriculture and Food SciencesThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

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