Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 29220487
Genome Biol Evol 2017 12;9(12):3413-3431
Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) is considered as a major source of innovation in bacteria, and as such is expected to drive adaptation to new ecological niches. However, among the many genes acquired through HGT along the diversification history of genomes, only a fraction may have actively contributed to sustained ecological adaptation. We used a phylogenetic approach accounting for the transfer of genes (or groups of genes) to estimate the history of genomes in Agrobacterium biovar 1, a diverse group of soil and plant-dwelling bacterial species. We identified clade-specific blocks of cotransferred genes encoding coherent biochemical pathways that may have contributed to the evolutionary success of key Agrobacterium clades. This pattern of gene coevolution rejects a neutral model of transfer, in which neighboring genes would be transferred independently of their function and rather suggests purifying selection on collectively coded acquired pathways. The acquisition of these synapomorphic blocks of cofunctioning genes probably drove the ecological diversification of Agrobacterium and defined features of ancestral ecological niches, which consistently hint at a strong selective role of host plant rhizospheres.