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Nucleic Acids Res. Dec 11, 1995; 23(23): 4745–4752.
PMCID: PMC307460

Evidence for the late origin of introns in chloroplast genes from an evolutionary analysis of the genus Euglena.


The origin of present day introns is a subject of spirited debate. Any intron evolution theory must account for not only nuclear spliceosomal introns but also their antecedents. The evolution of group II introns is fundamental to this debate, since group II introns are the proposed progenitors of nuclear spliceosomal introns and are found in ancient genes from modern organisms. We have studied the evolution of chloroplast introns and twintrons (introns within introns) in the genus Euglena. Our hypothesis is that Euglena chloroplast introns arose late in the evolution of this lineage and that twintrons were formed by the insertion of one or more introns into existing introns. In the present study we find that 22 out of 26 introns surveyed in six different photosynthesis-related genes from the plastid DNA of Euglena gracilis are not present in one or more basally branching Euglena spp. These results are supportive of a late origin for Euglena chloroplast group II introns. The psbT gene in Euglena viridis, a basally branching Euglena species, contains a single intron in the identical position to a psbT twintron from E.gracilis, a derived species. The E.viridis intron, when compared with 99 other Euglena group II introns, is most similar to the external intron of the E.gracilis psbT twintron. Based on these data, the addition of introns to the ancestral psbT intron in the common ancester of E.viridis and E.gracilis gave rise to the psbT twintron in E.gracilis.

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