Skip To Content
Cambridge University Science Magazine
The conventional view of evolution is that our genes are inherited through our ancestral line (from our parents), however this new study published in the journal Genome Biology explains how different organisms living in the same environment can transfer genes to each other (known as Horizontal Gene Transfer or HGT).

Although researchers previously thought that HGT may occur in less complex organisms (for example nematode worms), this is the first study to address the debate that this process could occur in humans too. The researchers studied the genomes of fly, nematode worm and primates (including humans) to determine how similar their genes were to those of other species and when they may have been acquired. Numerous genes, including that for the blood group ABO were transferred by HGT. The study confirmed that in humans, there were 17 previously-reported genes obtained via HGT, and a further 128 additional previously unreported foreign genes in the human genome.

Lead researcher Alastair Crisp says "This is the first study to show how widely horizontal gene transfer (HGT) occurs in animals, including humans, giving rise to tens or hundreds of active 'foreign' genes. Surprisingly, far from being a rare occurrence, it appears that HGT has contributed to the evolution of many, perhaps all, animals and that the process is ongoing, meaning that we may need to re-evaluate how we think about evolution."

DOI: 10.1186/s13059-015-0607-3

Written by Joanna-Marie Howes.