Transfer of DNA sequences between species regardless of their evolutionary distance is very common in bacteria, but evidence that horizontal gene transfer (HGT) also occurs in multicellular organisms has been accumulating in the past few years. The actual extent of this phenomenon is underestimated due to frequent sequence filtering of “alien” DNA before genome assembly. However, recent studies based on genome sequencing have revealed, and experimentally verified, the presence of foreign DNA sequences in the genetic material of several species of Lepidoptera. Large DNA viruses, such as baculoviruses and the symbiotic viruses of parasitic wasps (bracoviruses), have the potential to mediate these transfers in Lepidoptera. In particular, using ultra-deep sequencing, newly integrated transposons have been identified within baculovirus genomes. Bacterial genes have also been acquired by genomes of Lepidoptera, as in other insects and nematodes. In addition, insertions of bracovirus sequences were present in the genomes of certain moth and butterfly lineages, that were likely corresponding to rearrangements of ancient integrations. The viral genes present in these sequences, sometimes of hymenopteran origin, have been co-opted by lepidopteran species to confer some protection against pathogens.
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