Association between translation efficiency and horizontal gene transfer within microbial communities

Tamir Tuller*, Yana Girshovich, Yael Sella, Avi Kreimer, Shiri Freilich, Martin Kupiec, Uri Gophna, Eytan Ruppin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) is a major force in microbial evolution. Previous studies have suggested that a variety of factors, including restricted recombination and toxicity of foreign gene products, may act as barriers to the successful integration of horizontally transferred genes. This study identifies an additional central barrier to HGT - the lack of co-adaptation between the codon usage of the transferred gene and the tRNA pool of the recipient organism. Analyzing the genomic sequences of more than 190 microorganisms and the HGT events that have occurred between them, we show that the number of genes that were horizontally transferred between organisms is positively correlated with the similarity between their tRNA pools. Those genes that are better adapted to the tRNA pools of the target genomes tend to undergo more frequent HGT. At the community (or environment) level, organisms that share a common ecological niche tend to have similar tRNA pools. These results remain significant after controlling for diverse ecological and evolutionary parameters. Our analysis demonstrates that there are bi-directional associations between the similarity in the tRNA pools of organisms and the number of HGT events occurring between them. Similar tRNA pools between a donor and a host tend to increase the probability that a horizontally acquired gene will become fixed in its new genome. Our results also suggest that frequent HGT may be a homogenizing force that increases the similarity in the tRNA pools of organisms within the same community.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4743-4755
Number of pages13
JournalNucleic Acids Research
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 2011


FundersFunder number
German-Israel Binational Fund
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious DiseasesR01AI056034
James S. McDonnell Foundation
European CommissionPIRG04-GA-2008-239317
Israel Science Foundation
Ministry of Health, State of Israel


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