Protein based molecular markers provide reliable means to understand prokaryotic phylogeny and support Darwinian mode of evolution
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The analyses of genome sequences have led to the proposal that lateral gene transfers (LGTs) among prokaryotes are so widespread that they disguise the interrelationships among these organisms. This has led to questioning of whether the Darwinian model of evolution is applicable to prokaryotic organisms. In this review, we discuss the usefulness of taxon-specific molecular markers such as conserved signature indels (CSIs) and conserved signature proteins (CSPs) for understanding the evolutionary relationships among prokaryotes and to assess the influence of LGTs on prokaryotic evolution. The analyses of genomic sequences have identified large numbers of CSIs and CSPs that are unique properties of different groups of prokaryotes ranging from phylum to genus levels. The species distribution patterns of these molecular signatures strongly support a tree-like vertical inheritance of the genes containing these molecular signatures that is consistent with phylogenetic trees. Recent detailed studies in this regard on the Thermotogae and Archaea, which are reviewed here, have identified large numbers of CSIs and CSPs that are specific for the species from these two taxa and a number of their major clades. The genetic changes responsible for these CSIs (and CSPs) initially likely occurred in the common ancestors of these taxa and then vertically transferred to various descendants. Although some CSIs and CSPs in unrelated groups of prokaryotes were identified, their small numbers and random occurrence has no apparent influence on the consistent tree-like branching pattern emerging from other markers. These results provide evidence that although LGT is an important evolutionary force, it does not mask the tree-like branching pattern of prokaryotes or understanding of their evolutionary relationships. The identified CSIs and CSPs also provide novel and highly specific means for identification of different groups of microbes and for taxonomical and biochemical studies.
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