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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Sep 29;106(39):16728-33. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0908766106. Epub 2009 Sep 15.

Fine-scale mergers of chloroplast and mitochondrial genes create functional, transcompartmentally chimeric mitochondrial genes.

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Department of Biology, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA.


The mitochondrial genomes of flowering plants possess a promiscuous proclivity for taking up sequences from the chloroplast genome. All characterized chloroplast integrants exist apart from native mitochondrial genes, and only a few, involving chloroplast tRNA genes that have functionally supplanted their mitochondrial counterparts, appear to be of functional consequence. We developed a novel computational approach to search for homologous recombination (gene conversion) in a large number of sequences and applied it to 22 mitochondrial and chloroplast gene pairs, which last shared common ancestry some 2 billion years ago. We found evidence of recurrent conversion of short patches of mitochondrial genes by chloroplast homologs during angiosperm evolution, but no evidence of gene conversion in the opposite direction. All 9 putative conversion events involve the atp1/atpA gene encoding the alpha subunit of ATP synthase, which is unusually well conserved between the 2 organelles and the only shared gene that is widely sequenced across plant mitochondria. Moreover, all conversions were limited to the 2 regions of greatest nucleotide and amino acid conservation of atp1/atpA. These observations probably reflect constraints operating on both the occurrence and fixation of recombination between ancient homologs. These findings indicate that recombination between anciently related sequences is more frequent than previously appreciated and creates functional mitochondrial genes of chimeric origin. These results also have implications for the widespread use of mitochondrial atp1 in phylogeny reconstruction.

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