Horizontal Gene Transfer

Volume 532 of the series Methods in Molecular Biology pp 181-191

Genome Acquisition in Horizontal Gene Transfer: Symbiogenesis and Macromolecular Sequence Analysis

  • Lynn MargulisAffiliated withDepartment of Geosciences, University of Massachusetts

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


Phylogenetic diagrams (“trees of life”) based on computer-generated analyses of nucleic acid (DNA, RNA) or protein (amino acid residues) sequences are purported to reconstruct evolutionary history of the living organisms from which the macromolecules were isolated (1). “Horizontal gene transfer”, an expression that refers to the ad hoc explanation of anomalous distribution of these macromolecular sequences, is an inferred past event to explain evolution that, even in principle, is not documentable. Although the diagrams (“phylogenies”) help establish the details of relationships among important and widely distributed essential components of living systems (e.g., DNA of large and small replicons such as plasmids, viruses, genophores), chromatin, or protein enzymes that have conserved their function throughout the history of the evolutionary lineage (e.g., DNA that codes for polymerases or 16/18S ribosomal RNA), the HGT concept is an Alfred North Whiteheadian fallacy of misplaced concreteness (2). It is deeply flawed because of sets of unstated, unwarranted assumptions accepted as fact by practitioners: genomics and proteomic experts. They tend to be zoocentric and in particular anthropocentric computer scientists. Their relative lack of familiarity with the fossil record, hard-won life histories and transmission-genetics, taxonomy, physiology, metabolism, and ecology of the communities in which the organisms invariably reside, and many other aspects of life have led to codification of systematic errors in analysis of their, often superb, molecular data. Here we point to a prodigious but little-known symbiogenesis literature that contrasts the transfer of sets of genes with HGT taken to mean one or a-very-few-genes at a time.


Elysia karyomastigont symbiogenesis replicons parasexuality fallacy of misplaced concreteness microbial communities as units of selection