Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) is thought to occur frequently in bacteria in nature and to play an important role in bacterial evolution, contributing to the formation of new species. To gain insight into the frequency of HGT in Vibrionaceae and its possible impact on speciation, we assessed the incidence of interspecies transfer of the lux genes (luxCDABEG), which encode proteins involved in luminescence, a distinctive phenotype. Three hundred three luminous strains, most of which were recently isolated from nature and which represent 11 Aliivibrio, Photobacterium, and Vibrio species, were screened for incongruence of phylogenies based on a representative housekeeping gene (gyrB or pyrH) and a representative lux gene (luxA). Strains exhibiting incongruence were then subjected to detailed phylogenetic analysis of horizontal transfer by using multiple housekeeping genes (gyrB, recA, and pyrH) and multiple lux genes (luxCDABEG). In nearly all cases, housekeeping gene and lux gene phylogenies were congruent, and there was no instance in which the lux genes of one luminous species had replaced the lux genes of another luminous species. Therefore, the lux genes are predominantly vertically inherited in Vibrionaceae. The few exceptions to this pattern of congruence were as follows: (i) the lux genes of the only known luminous strain of Vibrio vulnificus, VVL1 (ATCC 43382), were evolutionarily closely related to the lux genes of Vibrio harveyi; (ii) the lux genes of two luminous strains of Vibrio chagasii, 21N-12 and SB-52, were closely related to those of V. harveyi and Vibrio splendidus, respectively; (iii) the lux genes of a luminous strain of Photobacterium damselae, BT-6, were closely related to the lux genes of the lux-rib(2) operon of Photobacterium leiognathi; and (iv) a strain of the luminous bacterium Photobacterium mandapamensis was found to be merodiploid for the lux genes, and the second set of lux genes was closely related to the lux genes of the lux-rib(2) operon of P. leiognathi. In none of these cases of apparent HGT, however, did acquisition of the lux genes correlate with phylogenetic divergence of the recipient strain from other members of its species. The results indicate that horizontal transfer of the lux genes in nature is rare and that horizontal acquisition of the lux genes apparently has not contributed to speciation in recipient taxa.
2008. Vol. 190, no 10, 3494-504 p.