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BMC Evol Biol. 2006 Sep 14;6:71.

Putative cross-kingdom horizontal gene transfer in sponge (Porifera) mitochondria.

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Department of Zoology, George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, Tel-Aviv University, Tel-Aviv 69978, Israel.



The mitochondrial genome of Metazoa is usually a compact molecule without introns. Exceptions to this rule have been reported only in corals and sea anemones (Cnidaria), in which group I introns have been discovered in the cox1 and nad5 genes. Here we show several lines of evidence demonstrating that introns can also be found in the mitochondria of sponges (Porifera).


A 2,349 bp fragment of the mitochondrial cox1 gene was sequenced from the sponge Tetilla sp. (Spirophorida). This fragment suggests the presence of a 1143 bp intron. Similar to all the cnidarian mitochondrial introns, the putative intron has group I intron characteristics. The intron is present in the cox1 gene and encodes a putative homing endonuclease. In order to establish the distribution of this intron in sponges, the cox1 gene was sequenced from several representatives of the demosponge diversity. The intron was found only in the sponge order Spirophorida. A phylogenetic analysis of the COI protein sequence and of the intron open reading frame suggests that the intron may have been transmitted horizontally from a fungus donor.


Little is known about sponge-associated fungi, although in the last few years the latter have been frequently isolated from sponges. We suggest that the horizontal gene transfer of a mitochondrial intron was facilitated by a symbiotic relationship between fungus and sponge. Ecological relationships are known to have implications at the genomic level. Here, an ecological relationship between sponge and fungus is suggested based on the genomic analysis.

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