The process of photosynthesis has had profound global-scale effects on Earth; however, its origin and evolution remain enigmatic. Here we report a wholegenome comparison of representatives from all five groups of photosynthetic prokaryotes and show that horizontal gene transfer has been pivotal in their evolution. Excluding a small number of orthologs that show congruent phylogenies, the genomes of these organisms represent mosaics of genes with very different evolutionary histories. We have also analyzed a subset of "photosynthesis-specific" genes that were elucidated through a differential genome comparison. Our results explain incoherencies in previous data-limited phylogenetic analyses of phototrophic bacteria and indicate that the core components of photosynthesis have been subject to lateral transfer.
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