An evolutionary analysis of lateral gene transfer in thymidylate synthase enzymes

Adi Stern, Itay Mayrose, Osnat Penn, Shaul Shaul, Uri Gophna, Tal Pupko*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Thymidylate synthases (Thy) are key enzymes in the synthesis of deoxythymidylate, 1 of the 4 building blocks of DNA. As such, they are essential for all DNA-based forms of life and therefore implicated in the hypothesized transition from RNA genomes to DNA genomes. Two evolutionally unrelated Thy enzymes, ThyA and ThyX, are known to catalyze the same biochemical reaction. Both enzymes are sporadically distributed within each of the 3 domains of life in a pattern that suggests multiple nonhomologous lateral gene transfer (LGT) events. We present a phylogenetic analysis of the evolution of the 2 enzymes, aimed at unraveling their entangled evolutionary history and tracing their origin back to early life. A novel probabilistic evolutionary model was developed, which allowed us to compute the posterior probabilities and the posterior expectation of the number of LGT events. Simulation studies were performed to validate the model's ability to accurately detect LGT events, which have occurred throughout a large phylogeny. Applying the model to the Thy data revealed widespread nonhomologous LGT between and within all 3 domains of life. By reconstructing the ThyA and ThyX gene trees, the most likely donor of each LGT event was inferred. The role of viruses in LGT of Thy is finally discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)212-225
Number of pages14
JournalSystematic Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2010


  • Evolutionary models
  • Lateral gene transfer
  • Thymidylate synthase


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