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Genome Biol Evol. 2013;5(12):2318-29. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evt181.

Massively convergent evolution for ribosomal protein gene content in plastid and mitochondrial genomes.

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LOEWE Centre for Synthetic Microbiology (SYNMIKRO), Philipps-Universität, Marburg, Germany.


Plastid and mitochondrial genomes have undergone parallel evolution to encode the same functional set of genes. These encode conserved protein components of the electron transport chain in their respective bioenergetic membranes and genes for the ribosomes that express them. This highly convergent aspect of organelle genome evolution is partly explained by the redox regulation hypothesis, which predicts a separate plastid or mitochondrial location for genes encoding bioenergetic membrane proteins of either photosynthesis or respiration. Here we show that convergence in organelle genome evolution is far stronger than previously recognized, because the same set of genes for ribosomal proteins is independently retained by both plastid and mitochondrial genomes. A hitherto unrecognized selective pressure retains genes for the same ribosomal proteins in both organelles. On the Escherichia coli ribosome assembly map, the retained proteins are implicated in 30S and 50S ribosomal subunit assembly and initial rRNA binding. We suggest that ribosomal assembly imposes functional constraints that govern the retention of ribosomal protein coding genes in organelles. These constraints are subordinate to redox regulation for electron transport chain components, which anchor the ribosome to the organelle genome in the first place. As organelle genomes undergo reduction, the rRNAs also become smaller. Below size thresholds of approximately 1,300 nucleotides (16S rRNA) and 2,100 nucleotides (26S rRNA), all ribosomal protein coding genes are lost from organelles, while electron transport chain components remain organelle encoded as long as the organelles use redox chemistry to generate a proton motive force.


evolution; gene transfer; mitochondria; organelle genomes; plastids; ribosomal proteins

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