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Mol Microbiol. 2001 Aug;41(3):645-52.

Ectopic transposition of a group II intron in natural bacterial populations.

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Grupo de Ecología Genética, Estación Experimental del Zaidín, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Calle Profesor Albareda 1, 18008 Granada, Spain.


Self-splicing group II introns are thought to be the evolutionary progenitors of eukaryotic spliceosomal introns. The invasion of novel (ectopic) sites by group II introns is considered to be a key mechanism by which spliceosomal introns may have become widely dispersed. However, the dynamics of these events in populations are unknown. In bacteria, only two group II introns have been shown to splice and to be mobile in vivo. One of these introns, RmInt1 from Sinorhizobium meliloti, which encodes a protein with no endonuclease domain, has been shown to invade the ectopic oxi1 site independently of recombinase. In this study, we analysed ectopic transposition of the RmInt1 intron in a natural population of S. meliloti. We characterized S. meliloti isolates by polymerase chain reaction amplification of a gene, dapB, which is found only on the pRmeGR4b plasmid diagnostic of GR4-type strains. The diversity within this specific field population of bacteria was analysed by restriction fragment length polymorphism using ISRm2011-2 (homing site of RmInt1) and RmInt1 as probes. We found that ectopic transposition of RmInt1 to the oxi1 site occurred in this natural bacterial population. This ectopic transposition was also the most frequent genetic event observed. This work provides further evidence that the ectopic transposition of group II introns is an important mechanism for their spread in natural bacterial populations.

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