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RNA. 2007 Oct;13(10):1603-8. Epub 2007 Aug 20.

The birth of new exons: mechanisms and evolutionary consequences.

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Genomics Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, California 94720, USA.


A significant amount of literature was dedicated to hypotheses concerning the origin of ancient introns and exons, but accumulating evidence indicates that new exons are also constantly being added to evolving genomes. Several mechanisms contribute to the creation of novel exons in metazoan genomes, including whole gene and single exon duplications, but perhaps the most intriguing are events of exonization, where intronic sequences become exons de novo. Exonizations of intronic sequences, particularly those originating from repetitive elements, are now widely documented in many genomes including human, mouse, dog, and fish. Such de novo appearance of exons is very frequently associated with alternative splicing, with the new exon-containing variant typically being the rare one. This allows the new variant to be evolutionarily tested without compromising the original one, and provides an evolutionary strategy for generation of novel functions with minimum damage to the existing functional repertoire. This review discusses the molecular mechanisms leading to exonization, its extent in vertebrate genomes, and its evolutionary implications.

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