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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Dec 6, 1994; 91(25): 12150–12154.

De novo synthesis of an intron by the maize transposable element Dissociation.


The mechanisms by which introns are gained or lost in the evolution of eukaryotic genes remain poorly understood. The discovery that transposable elements sometimes alter RNA splicing to allow partial or imperfect removal of the element from the primary transcripts suggests that transposons are a potential and continuing source of new introns. To date, splicing events that precisely restore the wild-type RNA sequence at the site of insertion have not been detected. Here we describe alternative RNA splicing patterns that result in precise removal of a Dissociation (Ds) insertion and one copy of its eight-nucleotide host site duplication from an exon sequence of the maize shrunken2-mutabe1 (sh2-m1) mutant. In one case, perfect splicing of Ds was associated with aberrant splicing of an intron located 32 bp upstream of the insertion site. The second transcript type was indistinguishable from wild-type mRNA, indicating that Ds was spliced like a normal intron in about 2% of the sh2-m1 transcripts. Our results suggest that the transposition of Ds into sh2 in 1968, in effect, marked the creation of a new intron in a modern eukaryotic gene. The possibility of precise intron formation by a transposable element demonstrated here may be a general phenomenon of intron formation, since consensus intron splice sites can be explained by insertions that duplicate host sequences upon integration. A model is presented.

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