Evolutionary dynamics of introns in plastid-derived genes in plants: Saturation nearly reached but slow intron gain continues

Academic Article


  • Some of the principal transitions in the evolution of eukaryotes are characterized by engulfment of prokaryotes by primitive eukaryotic cells. In particular, ∼1.6 billion years ago, engulfment of a cyanobacterium that became the ancestor of chloroplasts and other plastids gave rise to Plantae, the major branch of eukaryotes comprised of glaucophytes, red algae, green algae, and green plants. After endosymbiosis, there was large-scale migration of genes from the endosymbiont to the nuclear genome of the host such that ∼18% of the nuclear genes in Arabidopsis appear to be of chloroplast origin. To gain insights into the process of evolution of gene structure in these, originally, intronless genes, we compared the properties and the evolutionary dynamics of introns in genes of plastid origin and ancestral eukaryotic genes in Arabidopsis, poplar, and rice genomes. We found that intron densities in plastid-derived genes were slightly but significantly lower than those in ancestral eukaryotic genes. Although most of the introns in both categories of genes were conserved between monocots (rice) and dicots (Arabidopsis and poplar), lineage-specific intron gain was more pronounced in plastid-derived genes than in ancestral genes, whereas there was no significant difference in the intron loss rates between the 2 classes of genes. Thus, after the transfer to the nuclear genome, the plastid-derived genes have undergone a massive intron invasion that, by the time of the divergence of dicots and monocots (150-200 MYA), yielded intron densities only slightly lower than those in ancestral genes. Nevertheless, the accumulation of introns in plastid-derived genes appears not to have reached saturation and continues to this time, albeit at a low rate. The overall pattern of intron gain and loss in the plastid-derived genes is shaped by this continuing gain and the more general tendency for loss that is characteristic of the recent evolution of plant genes.
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    Author List

  • Basu MK; Rogozin IB; Deusch O; Dagan T; Martin W; Koonin EV
  • Start Page

  • 111
  • End Page

  • 119
  • Volume

  • 25
  • Issue

  • 1