Editor's Summary

29 April 2010

Genes hitch a lift


The horizontal transfer (HT) of genetic material between non-mating species, common in bacteria, is increasingly being recognized as a significant force in eukaryotic evolution. Most instances of HT described so far in metazoans involve mobile genetic elements — mainly transposons — but the mechanisms enabling this exchange between widely divergent species are unknown. Gilbert et al. now show that transposable elements spread between disparate species by hitch-hiking in the genomes of parasites shared by these species. Specifically, Rhodnius prolixus, an insect that feeds on the blood of tetrapods and which is the vector of Chagas disease in humans, carries four distinct transposon families in its genome that can invade the genomes of a range of tetrapods including the opossum and squirrel monkey. One of these transposon families is also present in the pond snail Lymnaea stagnalis, a vector of trematodes infecting many vertebrates.

LetterA role for host–parasite interactions in the horizontal transfer of transposons across phyla

Clément Gilbert, Sarah Schaack, John K. Pace II, Paul J. Brindley & Cédric Feschotte

doi:10.1038/nature08939