Protein domains as units of genetic transfer

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Genomes evolve as modules. In prokaryotes (and some eukaryotes), genetic material can be transferred between species and integrated into the genome via homologous or illegitimate recombination. There is little reason to imagine that the units of transfer correspond to entire genes; however, such units have not been rigorously characterized. We examined fragmentary genetic transfers in single-copy gene families from 144 prokaryotic genomes and found that breakpoints are located significantly closer to the boundaries of genomic regions that encode annotated structural domains of proteins than expected by chance, particularly when recombining sequences are more divergent. This correlation results from recombination events themselves and not from differential nucleotide substitution. We report the first systematic study relating genetic recombination to structural features at the protein level.
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