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The Vein Patterning 1 (VEP1) Gene Family Laterally Spread through an Ecological Network

Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

Lateral gene transfer (LGT) is a major evolutionary mechanism in prokaryotes. Knowledge about LGT— particularly, multicellular— eukaryotes has only recently started to accumulate. A widespread assumption sees the gene as the unit of LGT, largely because little is yet known about how LGT chances are affected by structural/functional features at the subgenic level. Here we trace the evolutionary trajectory of VEin Patterning 1, a novel gene family known to be essential for plant development and defense. At the subgenic level VEP1 encodes a dinucleotide-binding Rossmann-fold domain, in common with members of the short-chain dehydrogenase/reductase (SDR) protein family. We found: i) VEP1 likely originated in an aerobic, mesophilic and chemoorganotrophic α-proteobacterium, and was laterally propagated through nets of ecological interactions, including multiple LGTs between phylogenetically distant green plant/fungi-associated bacteria, and five independent LGTs to eukaryotes. Of these latest five transfers, three are ancient LGTs, implicating an ancestral fungus, the last common ancestor of land plants and an ancestral trebouxiophyte green alga, and two are recent LGTs to modern embryophytes. ii) VEP1's rampant LGT behavior was enabled by the robustness and broad utility of the dinucleotide-binding Rossmann-fold, which provided a platform for the evolution of two unprecedented departures from the canonical SDR catalytic triad. iii) The fate of VEP1 in eukaryotes has been different in different lineages, being ubiquitous and highly conserved in land plants, whereas fungi underwent multiple losses. And iv) VEP1-harboring bacteria include non-phytopathogenic and phytopathogenic symbionts which are non-randomly distributed with respect to the type of harbored VEP1 gene. Our findings suggest that VEP1 may have been instrumental for the evolutionary transition of green plants to land, and point to a LGT-mediated ‘Trojan Horse’ mechanism for the evolution of bacterial pathogenesis against plants. VEP1 may serve as tool for revealing microbial interactions in plant/fungi-associated environments.

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