Statistical Mechanics of Horizontal Gene Transfer in Evolutionary Ecology

Nicholas Chia, Nigel Goldenfeld

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The biological world, especially its majority microbial component, is strongly interacting and may be dominated by collective effects. In this review, we provide a brief introduction for statistical physicists of the way in which living cells communicate genetically through transferred genes, as well as the ways in which they can reorganize their genomes in response to environmental pressure. We discuss how genome evolution can be thought of as related to the physical phenomenon of annealing, and describe the sense in which genomes can be said to exhibit an analogue of information entropy. As a direct application of these ideas, we analyze the variation with ocean depth of transposons in marine microbial genomes, predicting trends that are consistent with recent observations using metagenomic surveys.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1287-1301
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Statistical Physics
Issue number6
StatePublished - Apr 2011


  • Evolution
  • Horizontal gene transfer
  • Metagenomics
  • Mobile genetic elements

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistical and Nonlinear Physics
  • Mathematical Physics


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