The success of microbial life on Earth can be attributed not only to environmental factors, but also to the surprising hardiness, adaptability and flexibility of the microbes themselves. They are able to quickly adapt to new niches or circumstances through gene evolution and also by sheer strength of numbers, where statistics favor otherwise rare events.
An integral part of adaptation is the plasticity of the genome; losing and acquiring genes depending on whether they are needed or not. Genomes can also be the birthplace of new gene functions, by duplicating and modifying existing genes. Genes can also be acquired from outside, transcending species boundaries. In this work, the focus is set primarily on duplication, deletion and import (lateral transfer) of genes – three factors contributing to the versatility and success of microbial life throughout the biosphere.
We have developed a compositional method of identifying genes that have been imported into a genome, and the rate of import/deletion turnover has been appreciated in a number of organisms. Furthermore, we propose a model of genome evolution by duplication, where through the principle of gene amplification, novel gene functions are discovered within genes with weak- or secondary protein functions. Subsequently, the novel function is maintained by selection and eventually optimized. Finally, we discuss a possible synergic link between lateral transfer and duplicative processes in gene innovation.