Transposases are the most abundant, most ubiquitous genes in nature

Ramy K. Aziz, Mya Breitbart, Robert A. Edwards

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

221 Citations (Scopus)
30 Downloads (Pure)


Genes, like organisms, struggle for existence, and the most successful genes persist and widely dis- seminate in nature. The unbiased determination of the most successful genes requires access to sequence data from a wide range of phylogenetic taxa and ecosystems, which has finally become achievable thanks to the deluge of genomic and metagenomic sequences. Here, we analyzed 10 million protein-encoding genes and gene tags in sequenced bacterial, archaeal, eukaryotic and viral genomes and metagenomes, and our analysis demonstrates that genes encoding transposases are the most prevalent genes in nature. The finding that these genes, classically considered as selfish genes, outnumber essential or housekeeping genes suggests that they offer selective advantage to the genomes and ecosystems they inhabit, a hypothesis in agreement with an emerging body of literature. Their mobile nature not only promotes dissemination of transposable elements within and between genomes but also leads to mutations and rearrangements that can accelerate biological diversification and-consequently-evolution. By securing their own replication and dissemination, transposases guarantee to thrive so long as nucleic acid-based life forms exist.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbergkq140
Pages (from-to)4207-4217
Number of pages11
JournalNucleic Acids Research
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2010
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

The Author(s) 2010. Published by Oxford University Press.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (
by-nc/2.5), which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


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