Environ. Biosafety Res.
Volume 7, Number 4, October-December 2008
|Page(s)||227 - 239|
|Published online||29 October 2008|
Phylogeny of chitinases and its implications for estimating horizontal gene transfer from chitinase-transgenic silver birch (Betula pendula)
Botanical Museum, P.O. Box 7, 00014 University of Helsinki,
2 Department of Applied Biology, P.O. Box 27, 00014 University of Helsinki, Finland
3 Department of Biosciences, P.O. Box 47, 00014 University of Helsinki, Finland
4 North Karelia University of Applied Sciences, Tikkarinne 9, 80200 Joensuu, Finland
5 Department of Ecology and Systematics, Division of Systematics, P.O. Box 47, 00014 University of Helsinki, Finland
Corresponding author: firstname.lastname@example.org
Chitinases are hydrolytic enzymes that have been employed in biotechnology in attempts to increase plants' resistance against fungal pathogens. Genetically modified plants have given rise to concerns of the spreading of transgenes into the environment through vertical or horizontal gene transfer (HGT). In this study, chitinase-like sequences from silver birch (Betula pendula) EST-libraries were identified and their phylogenetic relationships to other chitinases were studied. Phylogenetic analyses were used to estimate the frequency of historical gene transfer events of chitinase genes between plants and other organisms, and the usefulness of phylogenetic analyses as a source of information for the risk assessment of transgenic silver birch carrying a sugar beet chitinase IV gene was evaluated. Thirteen partial chitinase-like sequences, with an approximate length of 600 bp, were obtained from the EST-libraries. The sequences belonged to five chitinase classes. Some bacterial chitinases from Streptomyces and Burkholderia, as well as a chitinase from an oomycete, Phytophthora infestans, grouped together with the class IV chitinases of plants, supporting the hypothesis that some class IV chitinases in bacteria have evolved from eukaryotic chitinases via horizontal gene transfer. According to our analyses, HGT of a chitinase IV gene from eukaryotes to bacteria has presumably occurred only once. Based on this, the likelihood for the HGT of chitinase IV gene from transgenic birch to other organisms is extremely low. However, as risk is a function of both the likelihood and consequences of an event, the effects of rare HGT event(s) will finally determine the level of the risk.
Key words: birch / chitinase / horizontal gene transfer / phylogeny / risk assessment / transgenic tree
© ISBR, EDP Sciences, 2008