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J Mol Evol. 1999 Sep;49(3):376-84.

Intron-genome size relationship on a large evolutionary scale.

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Institute of Cytology, Russian Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg 194064, Russia.


The intron-genome size relationship was studied across a wide evolutionary range (from slime mold and yeast to human and maize), as well as the relationship between genome size and the ratio of intervening/coding sequence size. The average intron size is scaled to genome size with a slope of about one-fourth for the log-transformed values; i.e., on the global scale its increase in evolution is lower than the increase in genome size by four orders of magnitude. There are exceptions to the general trend. In baker's yeast introns are extraordinarily long for its genome size. Tetrapods also have longer introns than expected for their genome sizes. In teleost fish the mean intron size does not differ significantly, notwithstanding the differences in genome size. In contrast to previous reports, avian introns were not found to be significantly shorter than introns of mammals, although avian genomes are smaller than genomes of mammals on average by about a factor of 2.5. The extra-/intragenic ratio of noncoding DNA can be higher in fungi than in animals, notwithstanding the smaller fungal genomes. In vertebrates and invertebrates taken separately, this ratio is increasing as the increase in genome size. Two hypotheses are proposed to explain the variation in the extra-/intragenic ratio of noncoding DNA in organisms with similar numbers of genes: transition (dynamic) and equilibrium (static). According to the transition model, this variation arises with the rapid shift of genome size because the bulk of extragenic DNA can be changed more rapidly than the finely interspersed intron sequences. The equilibrium model assumes that this variation is a result of selective adjustment of genome size with constraints imposed on the intron size due to its putative link to chromatin structure (and constraints of the splicing machinery).

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