Predicting Horizontal Gene Transfers with Perfect Transfer Networks

Authors Alitzel López Sánchez, Manuel Lafond

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Alitzel López Sánchez
  • Computer Science Department, Université de Sherbrooke, Canada
Manuel Lafond
  • Computer Science Department, Université de Sherbrooke, Canada


The authors would like to thank the reviewers for their helpful comments and for pointing out paper [Nakhleh, 2004].

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Alitzel López Sánchez and Manuel Lafond. Predicting Horizontal Gene Transfers with Perfect Transfer Networks. In 22nd International Workshop on Algorithms in Bioinformatics (WABI 2022). Leibniz International Proceedings in Informatics (LIPIcs), Volume 242, pp. 3:1-3:22, Schloss Dagstuhl – Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik (2022)


Horizontal gene transfer inference approaches are usually based on gene sequences: parametric methods search for patterns that deviate from a particular genomic signature, while phylogenetic methods use sequences to reconstruct the gene and species trees. However, it is well-known that sequences have difficulty identifying ancient transfers since mutations have enough time to erase all evidence of such events. In this work, we ask whether character-based methods can predict gene transfers. Their advantage over sequences is that homologous genes can have low DNA similarity, but still have retained enough important common motifs that allow them to have common character traits, for instance the same functional or expression profile. A phylogeny that has two separate clades that acquired the same character independently might indicate the presence of a transfer even in the absence of sequence similarity. We introduce perfect transfer networks, which are phylogenetic networks that can explain the character diversity of a set of taxa. This problem has been studied extensively in the form of ancestral recombination networks, but these only model hybridation events and do not differentiate between direct parents and lateral donors. We focus on tree-based networks, in which edges representing vertical descent are clearly distinguished from those that represent horizontal transmission. Our model is a direct generalization of perfect phylogeny models to such networks. Our goal is to initiate a study on the structural and algorithmic properties of perfect transfer networks. We then show that in polynomial time, one can decide whether a given network is a valid explanation for a set of taxa, and show how, for a given tree, one can add transfer edges to it so that it explains a set of taxa.

Subject Classification

ACM Subject Classification
  • Applied computing → Molecular evolution
  • Horizontal gene transfer
  • tree-based networks
  • perfect phylogenies
  • character-based
  • gene-expression
  • indirect phylogenetic methods


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