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Mol Biol Evol. 2012 Feb;29(2):849-59. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msr254. Epub 2011 Oct 13.

Higher intron loss rate in Arabidopsis thaliana than A. lyrata is consistent with stronger selection for a smaller genome.

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Department of Plant Systems Biology, VIB, Gent, Belgium.


The number of introns varies considerably among different organisms. This can be explained by the differences in the rates of intron gain and loss. Two factors that are likely to influence these rates are selection for or against introns and the mutation rate that generates the novel intron or the intronless copy. Although it has been speculated that stronger selection for a compact genome might result in a higher rate of intron loss and a lower rate of intron gain, clear evidence is lacking, and the role of selection in determining these rates has not been established. Here, we studied the gain and loss of introns in the two closely related species Arabidopsis thaliana and A. lyrata as it was recently shown that A. thaliana has been undergoing a faster genome reduction driven by selection. We found that A. thaliana has lost six times more introns than A. lyrata since the divergence of the two species but gained very few introns. We suggest that stronger selection for genome reduction probably resulted in the much higher intron loss rate in A. thaliana, although further analysis is required as we could not find evidence that the loss rate increased in A. thaliana as opposed to having decreased in A. lyrata compared with the rate in the common ancestor. We also examined the pattern of the intron gains and losses to better understand the mechanisms by which they occur. Microsimilarity was detected between the splice sites of several gained and lost introns, suggesting that nonhomologous end joining repair of double-strand breaks might be a common pathway not only for intron gain but also for intron loss.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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