Horizontal Gene Transfer: Definition & Process

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  • 0:00 Vertical Gene Transfer
  • 0:25 Horizontal Gene Transfer
  • 1:55 Evolutionary Importance
  • 3:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

How can we pass on our DNA, other than to our children? Is there any other way to pass on genetic material other than through reproduction? The answer may surprise you as we explore horizontal gene transfer.

Vertical Gene Transfer

You know that the genes that make you who you are came from Ma and Pa, right? That is a clear-cut case of something known as vertical gene transfer, meaning genes are transmitted from parent to offspring during reproduction. But there is another funky way that genes can be transferred between organisms, and not just between parents and offspring. This kind of gene transfer can even occur between members of different domains: the eukaryota, bacteria and archaea. It's called horizontal gene transfer. Let's go over it.

Horizontal Gene Transfer

Horizontal gene transfer, also known as lateral gene transfer, is the transmission of genetic material from one genome to another genome in a way other than reproduction. How can this be so? Well, there's actually more than one way, and I'm going to give you a concrete example. Let's picture a small bacterial cell swimming about. All of a sudden, a bigger eukaryotic cell comes across it, and like an octopus, snatches it up. The bacterial cell then is trapped within the eukaryotic cell, where it is degraded by digestive enzymes, much like food in the stomach. In some instances, part of the bacterial genome is for some reason not degraded, and this bacterial gene can insert itself into a chromosome of a eukaryotic cell. Additionally, at least when it comes to bacteria, there are three main types of mechanisms by which horizontal gene transfer occurs that I want you to be aware of. They are called transformation, conjugation and transduction. Transformation occurs when bacterial cells are moving about and come across short fragments of naked DNA in their environments, fragments they take up. In conjugation, two cells form a temporary bridge, or union upon which genetic material can be transferred from one cell to another. In transduction, DNA is transmitted from cell to cell via a kind of virus called a bacteriophage. Basically, the DNA is injected into a cell by this virus, much like a syringe is used to inject something into your body.

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