Gene acquisition through horizontal gene transfer (HGT) may either exert a beneficial, neutral, or deleterious fitness effect on the recipient cell thereby determining the evolutionary fate of the newly transferred gene. The distribution of fitness effects (DFE) thus is a fundamental predictor of the outcome of an HGT event.

The environment plays a considerable role in altering the fitness of a horizontally transferred gene. We have studied the DFE of genes transferred from Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium to Escherichia coli in six environments, that potentially represent the conditions experienced by the two species. The data suggests high variability, with some genes becoming deleterious in one environment, while becoming neutral or even beneficial in another, suggesting that fluctuating environments may increase the likelihood of HGT.

The present study focuses on the DFE of genes transferred from Escherichia coli to macrophage-associated Salmonella Typhimurium strain 4/74 in four environments, that mimic the conditions inside a macrophage cell. In addition to the external environment, we are also looking at, how changes in the intrinsic environment of a cell, after an HGT event, could affect fitness. Functional similarity of the horizontally transferred gene to the endogenous copy can cause an imbalance due to increased protein dosage, thereby leading to a negative fitness effect. By comparing the growth rates of each ortholog gene with the ‘wild type’, in the four environments, we can elucidate when gene dosage acts as a barrier to HGT, helping us to understand the relationship of environmental quality and HGT, which is of evolutionary importance. We have identified 12 genes showing dosage dependent effects across the four environments, with some genes showing environment specificity, indicating an increased intolerance of the recipient to high protein dosage, making it a significant barrier to HGT.

A preprint is available on bioRxiv https://doi.org/10.1101/2022.04.01.486712

  • This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.

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