Horizontal Gene Transfer Explained: A Genetic Odyssey.

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By vexwift.com

What is horizontal gene transfer? Most of us are used to the idea of vertical gene transfer, the passing down of genes vertically from parent to child. Hopefully, that’s all pretty straightforward. In contrast, horizontal gene transfer, sometimes called lateral gene transfer or sideways gene transfer, is exactly what it sounds like the passing of one or more genes through routes other than the parent to offspring.

The Bacterial Ballet: horizontal gene transfer in Microorganisms

It is fairly common in bacteria. Some types of bacteria actively attach to and share genes with other bacteria around them, even completely different species. Some bacteria can collect genes that have leaked out from other cells, use them as their own, and if all goes well, pass the foreign genes on to the next generation when they reproduce. This phenomenon poses significant challenges when trying to control diseases, as genes for antibiotic resistance can quickly spread from one species of bacteria to another.

Rare Horizons: horizontal gene transfer in Plants and Animals

While this is common in bacteria, for most plants and animals, complete horizontal gene transfer appears to be very rare, with a few exceptions. Every cell in your body contains its own full copy of your genes, and the same is true for other multicelled animals and plants. Despite genes spilling from other organisms into your cells as you navigate through life, it’s usually not a big deal. Special enzymes often destroy foreign genes upon entry.

The Intricacies of Gene Fusion and Viral Influence

Recent studies suggest that, in rare cases, foreign genes can physically fuse with your cells’ DNA, making your cell behave as though the foreign genes are its own. Certain types of viruses actively insert their genes into the genomes of their victims’ cells. Inner-species gene swapping happens regularly, yet from an evolutionary perspective, it only matters if a foreign gene ends up in a reproductive cell. In plants and animals, complete horizontal gene transfer appears to be very rare, but when it occurs, it allows genes to hop from one species to another, presenting new opportunities for natural selection.

Unraveling the Evolutionary Impact in Humans

The importance of this in the evolution of humans remains unclear, with contradictory perspectives in scientific literature. Nonetheless, it is established that this occurs naturally, even within our own species. As we delve into the intricate world of genetics, horizontal gene transfer continues to be a fascinating and evolving field of study.

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