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Annu Rev Genet. 2004;38:1-35.

Mobile group II introns.

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Institute for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Section of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, University of Texas at Austin, Texas 78712, USA.


Mobile group II introns, found in bacterial and organellar genomes, are both catalytic RNAs and retrotransposable elements. They use an extraordinary mobility mechanism in which the excised intron RNA reverse splices directly into a DNA target site and is then reverse transcribed by the intron-encoded protein. After DNA insertion, the introns remove themselves by protein-assisted, autocatalytic RNA splicing, thereby minimizing host damage. Here we discuss the experimental basis for our current understanding of group II intron mobility mechanisms, beginning with genetic observations in yeast mitochondria, and culminating with a detailed understanding of molecular mechanisms shared by organellar and bacterial group II introns. We also discuss recently discovered links between group II intron mobility and DNA replication, new insights into group II intron evolution arising from bacterial genome sequencing, and the evolutionary relationship between group II introns and both eukaryotic spliceosomal introns and non-LTR-retrotransposons. Finally, we describe the development of mobile group II introns into gene-targeting vectors, "targetrons," which have programmable target specificity.

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