The tree of life viewed through the contents of genomes.

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A universal Tree of Life has been a longstanding goal of the biosciences. The most common Tree of Life, based on the small subunit rRNA gene, may or may not represent the phylogenetic history of microorganisms. The horizontal transfer of genes from one taxon to another provides a means by which each gene may tell of an independent history. When complete genomes became available, the extent to which horizontal gene transfer (HGT) has occurred became more evident. When using genomic data to study the Tree of Life, one can use any of the four broad approaches: (i) build lots of individual gene trees ("phylogenomics"), (ii) concatenate genes together for an analysis yielding one "supergene" tree, (iii) form a single tree based on the "gene content" within genomes using either orthologs or homologs, or (iv) investigate the order of genes within genomes to discern some aspects of microbial evolution. The application of whole genome tree building has suggested that there is a core tree, that such a core tree can be investigated using these varied methods, and that the results are largely similar to those of the rRNA universal Tree of Life. Some of the most interesting features of the rRNA tree, such as early diverging hyperthermophilic lineages are still uncertain, but remain a possibility. Genomic trees and geologic evidence together suggest that the vertical descent of genes and the horizontal transfer of genes between genetically similar lineages ultimately results in a core Tree of Life with at least some lineages that have phenotypic characteristics recognizable for billions of years.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)141-161
Number of pages21
JournalMethods in molecular biology (Clifton, N.J.)
StatePublished - 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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