Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) refers to the transfer of genes between organisms in a manner other than traditional reproduction. Also termed lateral gene transfer, it contrasts with vertical transfer, the transmission of genes from the parental generation to offspring via sexual or asexual reproduction. HGT has been shown to be an important factor in the evolution of many organisms, including bacteria, plants and humans.
Horizontal gene transfer is the primary reason for bacterial antibiotic resistance and in the evolution of bacteria that can degrade novel compounds such as human-created pesticides. This horizontal gene transfer often involves plasmids. Genes that are responsible for antibiotic resistance in one species of bacteria can be transferred to another species of bacteria through various mechanisms (e.g., via F-pilus), subsequently arming the antibiotic resistant genes' recipient against antibiotics, which is becoming a medical challenge to deal with. This is the most critical reason that antibiotics must not be consumed and administered to patients without appropriate prescription from a medical physician.
Most thinking in genetics has focused upon vertical transfer, but there is a growing awareness that horizontal gene transfer is a highly significant phenomenon and amongst single-celled organisms perhaps the dominant form of genetic transfer.
Artificial horizontal gene transfer is a form of genetic engineering.
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