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EMBO J. 1991 Oct;10(10):3073-8.

Transfer of rpl22 to the nucleus greatly preceded its loss from the chloroplast and involved the gain of an intron.

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Department of Plant Biology, University of Minnesota, St Paul 55108.


Most chloroplast and mitochondrial proteins are encoded by nuclear genes that once resided in the organellar genomes. Transfer of most of these genes appears to have occurred soon after the endosymbiotic origin of organelles, and so little is known about the process. Our efforts to understand how chloroplast genes are functionally transferred to the nuclear genome have led us to discover the most recent evolutionary gene transfer yet described. The gene rpl22, encoding chloroplast ribosomal protein CL22, is present in the chloroplast genome of all plants examined except legumes, while a functional copy of rpl22 is located in the nucleus of the legume pea. The nuclear rpl22 gene has acquired two additional domains relative to its chloroplast ancestor: an exon encoding a putative N-terminal transit peptide, followed by an intron which separates this first exon from the evolutionarily conserved, chloroplast-derived portion of the gene. This gene structure suggests that the transferred region may have acquired its transit peptide by a form of exon shuffling. Surprisingly, phylogenetic analysis shows that rpl22 was transferred to the nucleus in a common ancestor of all flowering plants, at least 100 million years preceding its loss from the legume chloroplast lineage.

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