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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Mar 22;108(12):4782-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1100862108. Epub 2011 Mar 7.

Evolution of introns in the archaeal world.

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Istituto di Biologia Cellulare, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Campus A, Buzzati-Traverso, Via Ramarini 32, Monterotondo Scalo, 00016 Rome, Italy.


The self-splicing group I introns are removed by an autocatalytic mechanism that involves a series of transesterification reactions. They require RNA binding proteins to act as chaperones to correctly fold the RNA into an active intermediate structure in vivo. Pre-tRNA introns in Bacteria and in higher eukaryote plastids are typical examples of self-splicing group I introns. By contrast, two striking features characterize RNA splicing in the archaeal world. First, self-splicing group I introns cannot be found, to this date, in that kingdom. Second, the RNA splicing scenario in Archaea is uniform: All introns, whether in pre-tRNA or elsewhere, are removed by tRNA splicing endonucleases. We suggest that in Archaea, the protein recruited for splicing is the preexisting tRNA splicing endonuclease and that this enzyme, together with the ligase, takes over the task of intron removal in a more efficient fashion than the ribozyme. The extinction of group I introns in Archaea would then be a consequence of recruitment of the tRNA splicing endonuclease. We deal here with comparative genome analysis, focusing specifically on the integration of introns into genes coding for 23S rRNA molecules, and how this newly acquired intron has to be removed to regenerate a functional RNA molecule. We show that all known oligomeric structures of the endonuclease can recognize and cleave a ribosomal intron, even when the endonuclease derives from a strain lacking rRNA introns. The persistence of group I introns in mitochondria and chloroplasts would be explained by the inaccessibility of these introns to the endonuclease.

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