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Horizontal Gene Transfer in Nematodes: A Catalyst for Plant Parasitism?

August 2011 , Volume 24 , Number  8
Pages  879 - 887

Annelies Haegeman,1 John T. Jones,2 and Etienne G. J. Danchin3

1Department of Molecular Biotechnology, Ghent University, Coupure links 653, 9000 Ghent, Belgium; 2Plant Pathology Department, SCRI, Invergowrie, Dundee, DD2 5DA, U.K.; 3INRA UMR 1301, CNRS UMR 6243, UNSA, 400 route des Chappes, F-06903 Sophia-Antipolis, France

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Accepted 5 April 2011.

The origin of plant parasitism within the phylum Nematoda is intriguing. The ability to parasitize plants has originated independently at least three times during nematode evolution and, as more molecular data has emerged, it has become clear that multiple instances of horizontal gene transfer (HGT) from bacteria and fungi have played a crucial role in the nematode's adaptation to this new lifestyle. The first reported HGT cases in plant-parasitic nematodes were genes encoding plant cell wall–degrading enzymes. Other putative examples of HGT were subsequently described, including genes that may be involved in the modulation of the plant's defense system, the establishment of a nematode feeding site, and the synthesis or processing of nutrients. Although, in many cases, it is difficult to pinpoint the donor organism, candidate donors are usually soil dwelling and are either plant-pathogenic or plant-associated microorganisms, hence occupying the same ecological niche as the nematodes. The exact mechanisms of transfer are unknown, although close contacts with donor microorganisms, such as symbiotic or trophic interactions, are a possibility. The widespread occurrence of horizontally transferred genes in evolutionarily independent plant-parasitic nematode lineages suggests that HGT may be a prerequisite for successful plant parasitism in nematodes.

© 2011 The American Phytopathological Society