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PLoS One. 2013;8(2):e56777. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0056777. Epub 2013 Feb 20.

A widespread and unusual RNA trans-splicing type in dinoflagellate mitochondria.

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  • 1School of Botany, The University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.


Cytochrome oxidase subunit 3 (Cox3) is a mitochondrion-encoded core membrane protein of complex IV of the mitochondrial respiratory chain, and consists of seven trans-membrane helices. Here we show that in diverse later-branching dinoflagellates, cox3 is consistently split into two exons in the mitochondrial genome between helices six and seven. Gene exons are transcribed as two discrete oligoadenylated precursor RNAs, and these are subsequently trans-spliced to form a complete coding mRNA. This trans-splicing is highly unusual in that some of the oligoadenylated tail is incorporated at the splice site, such that a short string of adenosines links the two coding exons. This feature is consistently represented in diverse dinoflagellates, however the number of adenosines added varies according to the size of the coding gap between the two exons. Thus we observed between zero (Amphidinium carterae) and 10 (Symbiodinium sp.) adenosines added in different taxa, but the final coding sequence length is identical with the reading frame maintained. Northern analyses show that precursor cox3 transcripts are approximately equally abundant as mature cox3 mRNAs, suggesting a slow or regulated maturation process. These data indicate that the splicing mechanism in dinoflagellate mitochondria is tolerant of variations in the length of the precursor coding sequence, and implicates the use of a splicing template, or guide molecule, during splicing that controls mature mRNA length.

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